STILLWATER — Josh Holliday's debut as Oklahoma State baseball coach delivered.
Delivered 41 wins and Big 12 contention and an NCAA Tournament berth, restoring pride in the program in the process.
So it was all good.
“Every day, we're looking to get better,” Holliday said.
Most days recently have worked against that quest, with rough winter weather creating challenges for getting in quality work, especially on the field. Yet the Cowboys have benefitted from use of the indoor practice facility geared for football and shared by several sports.
And, really, there's no discouraging Holliday's drive or his optimism.
“I feel really good about the direction we're heading,” he said. “We're by no means where we want to be, but we're getting closer every day.
“That's all you can really hope for.”
Holliday can start getting a clearer gauge on his squad this weekend, when the Cowboys open their season at the UTA/Hilton Invitational on the campus of Texas-Arlington. Game 1 is set for Friday at 11 a.m. against Incarnate Word.
This club features a melding of old and new, with 18 newcomers joining a cast of core returning players. All-Big 12 outfielder Zach Fish, first baseman and leading hitter Tanner Krietemeier, outfielders Saulyer Saxon and Gage Green and Donnie Walton, who shifts from second base to shortstop, all return off strong seasons.
“We return some good players from a year ago who were centerpieces to our success,” Holliday said.
The Cowboys' strength, however, should be pitching.
OSU returns two-thirds of its weekend rotation and pitchers who combine for 30 of the team's 41 wins, yet also expects a jolt of new talent to create competition for roles bolster an already formidable staff.
Left-hander Tyler Nurdin and righty Mark Robinette combined for 11 wins and 27 starts in 2013. Swing man Vince Wheeland filled many roles out of the bullpen in racking up eight wins and a 1.97 earned run average in an All-Big 12 season, while closer Brendan McCurry won six and saved eight games.
Arkansas transfer Conor Costello should make an impact as a two-way player, and a trio of highly rated freshmen — Garrett Williams, Thomas Hatch and Tyler Buffett — are young arms bidding for prominent spots, along with several holdovers.
They've made an impression on the veterans.
“A lot of them bring it up there, in the low 90s, good off-speed, which you don't always see a lot with freshmen,” Saxon said. “They can pitch.”
The Cowboys enjoyed a bounce-back season a year ago.
Now they want to bounce higher.
“Our depth is better, and our talent level is good,” Holliday said. “It will be really important for us to maximize each day and get better as the season goes, much like we did a year ago.
“Our team really took a big step forward in March going into conference play, and we'll need to see that continued growth in this club.”
OSU BASEBALL: AT A GLANCE
Coach: Josh Holliday, second season (41-19).
Last year: 41-19, 13-10 Big 12 (second).
Happy Returns: First baseman Tanner Krietemeier led the Cowboys in hitting (. 314), runs (42) and RBIs (45) a year ago as a mainstay in the lineup. The senior from Castle Rock, Colo., was good in the clutch, too, batting 368 with runners in scoring position.
Most missed: Ace Jason Hursh, a first-round draft pick of the Braves, was a Friday night horse, tossing three complete games and throwing 106 1/3 innings. He finished 6-5, yet posted a 2.79 ERA with 86 strikeouts.
Major addition: Left-hander Garrett Williams would have been a high-round draft pick if not for declaring his intentions to attend school. Even then, the Padres took a shot with a 33rd round pick. The Louisiana product struck out 89 in 58 innings while going 6-4 as a prep senior, was a Rawlings First Team All-American and the No. 15 high school pro prospect by Baseball America. He could push for a spot in the rotation, or fill the DH role, after hitting .388 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs at first base last spring
On the spot: Whoever wins the catching job. The Cowboys lost an underrated piece in Victor Romero and no one has seized the position so far. Juco transfer Bryan Case appears to have the lead, but freshman Robbie Rojas is pushing. Outfielders Gage Green and Zach Fish could also factor in if the others fail.
X-factor: Conor Costello, a former Edmond Santa Fe product who began his career at Arkansas, sat out last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Back healthy, he's been impressive, commanding three pitches. Holliday says Costello's ceiling is “very high.”
Touch 'em all: The Cowboys were picked second in the Big 12 preseason poll and has appeared in several rankings. If the young pitching is as good as advertised, a catcher develops and a few more bats bolster the lineup, OSU could be a force come June.