STILLWATER -- Oklahoma State pitcher Vince Wheeland eventually settled in and settled down in his surprise Super Regional start against UC Irvine Saturday night.
Trouble was, Irvine ace Andrew Morales locked in from the outset and locked down the Cowboys bats throughout, ending OSU’s season with a 1-0 Super Regional shutout before a sold-out crowd at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
The Anteaters advance to the College World Series, winning the series 2-0. Irvine won the opener, 8-4, Friday night.
Morales, the Big West Pitcher of the Year, allowed only one base runner past second base, struck out eight and allowed but five hits – all singles.
There was some question about how effective Morales would be, having started two games and thrown a combined 166 pitches at the Corvallis Regional last week. But the senior right-hander dominated from the start, attacking the strike zone with a mix of pitches, shutting out OSU for just the fourth time this season and going the distance in 112 pitches.
“(Morales) had his fastball in and out,” said Cowboys coach Josh Holliday. “He has a changeup you have to be responsible towards. And he had a tight slider that was tough on right-handers
“He’s a very skilled pitcher. He’s unique. He made the ball do a lot of things. He made his pitches. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a young man who goes out and works like that guy did.
“A heck of a job, probably the most well-pitched game we’ve seen this year against us.”
Wheeland was equally strong, despite making just his third start of the year, going a season-best 6 2/3 innings. It was his longest outing since pitching eight innings against Texas in 2012.
“After Vince settled in and found his rhythm, he did what he’s done for us all year,” Holliday said. “He just competed. And pounded the strike zone.”
Irvine scuffed Wheeland for the game’s only run in the first, with two singles and a two-out, opposite-field double by Jonathan Munoz. After that, the Cowboys senior – from Turlock, Calif. – got stronger and better, limiting Irvine opportunities. He allowed nine hits, but eight were singles and he walked only one, with three strikeouts. Wheeland threw a season-high 110 pitches, far eclipsing the 77 he threw in a 6 1/3-inning relief stint at West Virginia. Brendan McCurry finished with 1 1/3 innings of hitless relief for the Cowboys, keeping the game within range.
But OSU, which rallied regularly during the season, couldn’t come up with a 29th come-from-behind win.
Freshman Tyler Buffett seemed to be in line for the start, but Wheeland’s experience and status as the Cowboys’ most versatile and valuable pitcher all season earned him the nod. And he responded.
Morales was just a bit better.
“He really attacked the strike zone,” Cowboys second baseman Tim Arakawa said of Morales. “He used three pitches, all of them for strikes. We had a good plan against him, too, we just didn’t execute. He did pitch a great game though.”
The Cowboys managed just four runners in scoring position and none past second after Bryan Case was stranded at third in the third. Morales retired the final 10 Cowboys in order and the top five spots in the OSU order to a combined 0-for-16 night at the plate.
OSU’s season ends at 48-18. The Big 12 regular season champions, ranked as high as No. 3 in the national polls, posted the program’s most wins in two decades and played in just their third Super Regional – their first at home.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Holliday said. “That’s a tough one to swallow.
“Just look at this place. Enough said. Sold-out crowds after we were averaging 200 fans a game. People care about these kids. We played a lot of meaningful baseball. We won the Big 12. That’s pretty remarkable, considering the depth of the conference, so we’re very proud of that.”