STILLWATER – When Zach Fish stepped to the plate in the eighth inning Saturday, he didn't just carry the weight of a game, with Oklahoma State trailing by a run with two outs.
The weight of the moment was much heavier than that.
So when Fish drilled a long solo home run, the first big blow in a two-run rally that produced a 7-6 win over Kansas State at packed Reynolds Stadium, it was special.
“It was probably one of my very, very special moments at OSU, just because of the crowd and the situation, the Kids for Cancer today – that was a very emotional thing for us,” Fish said. “We have to remember that at the end of the day, this is just a game for us. For those kids, they really bring a lot to helping you realize a lot about life.
“So for me, it was a special moment to give the crowd something to cheer about.”
The weekend was already big enough for the Cowboys, who had dropped consecutive road series to fall below .500 in Big 12 play, putting their postseason hopes in peril.
But the Kids for Cancer event, which concluded after the game with players and coaches and fans shaving their heads for money in the stands, put a special charge into the afternoon.
Then there were the stands at Reynolds Stadium, filling to capacity as fans from the football spring game spilled across the street.
“Oh, it had us at a high,” said designated hitter Trey Whaley, another key figure in the rally, following Fish's blast with a double that became the winning run.
The high carries on, with Saturday's win the second in the series, offering opportunity for a sweep Sunday, when the teams close their weekend in a 1 p.m. start.
“That was an awesome day for us,” said first-year Cowboys coach Josh Holliday. “To look up and see a full crowd and to have energy in the park and have things going on, but most importantly for our team to respond and to give our fans an exciting win.
“Big for our team. Big for our program. Big for our season. That felt to me, for the first time, like big-time college baseball again.”
The Cowboys improved to 27-10 overall and 7-6 in the Big 12. K-State, which entered the weekend in a tie for second play in the conference, dropped to 27-13 and 6-5.
Things didn't start smoothly for OSU, with the Wildcats jumping to a 6-2 lead after three innings, chasing starting pitcher Mark Robinette. But the bullpen stabilized the game, with Alex Hackerott, Kenton Bevacqua and Vince Wheeland providing 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
For a team that had already produced 11 come-from-behind wins, there was no sense of panic.
“We've been resilient and we know that,” said center fielder Saulyer Saxon. “It was a 6-2 game in the third. If you walked in the dugout, you couldn't tell if it was tied or what the score was. We just kept competing.
“We knew our time was going to come around. And eventually it did.”
The Cowboys got three runs in the fifth to make it 6-5, setting up the clinching rally in the eighth, just when it appeared they'd blown their opportunity.
After getting the tying run on to start the inning, Robbie Walton bunted into a double play, which could have been a rally killer.
Except Fish revived it.
“I was going up there just trying to get on base, honestly,” he said. “We really needed a rally to start right there. I was looking for a pitch up, something I could get ahold of and something I could get in a gap and get myself into scoring position to help us out.”
Instead, Fish got a fastball down and in, and drilled it over the wall in left-center.
Then Whaley doubled and pinch hitter Corey Hassel drew a walk. Jarrett Higgins, running for Whaley, scored easily when Saxon delivered an RBI single to left.
“It's a huge weekend for us, not just RPI or Big 12, but respect wise,” Fish said. “We want the nation to know we're a real team, we're a really good ballclub. And we're really starting to put it together right now.
“So I'm very excited with where we're going.”