OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday wants to take the Cowboys back to where they were during his playing days.
Holliday was a senior on the 1999 team that reached the College World Series, the school's most recent team to get to Omaha, Nebraska.
For Holliday to come full circle, Oklahoma State (48-16) will need to beat UC Irvine in a best-of-three super regional starting Friday night with Game 1.
Holliday said it felt a bit like old times when the Cowboys knocked off Cal State Fullerton in regional play to advance.
"The players picked each other up and did what teams do — they found ways to win," he said. "I'm really proud of them. This is a tribute to them and our fans for helping us feel like we've arrived a little bit again. Having this ballpark full of people and seeing the way our kids respond to the crowd is something that I've ached for ever since we came back to Stillwater."
Oklahoma State features Big 12 Player of the Year Zach Fish. The outfielder sprained an ankle during the Big 12 Tournament, but he recovered and played in the regional. Shortstop Donnie Walton, the most valuable player of the Stillwater Regional, said the Cowboys are confident. Oklahoma State has come from behind in 28 of its 48 wins, so an early deficit won't be a concern.
"We put a lot of hard work in throughout the season," he said. "We had some ups-and-downs. One thing about this team is that we're resilient. Even when we're down, we're calm, and we can come back and make a run at it."
UC Irvine (38-23) knocked off No. 1 national seed Oregon State in regional play and makes its fourth super regional appearance in its Division I history. The Anteaters beat the Beavers 14-2, then lost 4-0 to set up a winner-take-all game. Irvine won the title game 4-2 to advance.
"Everybody can imagine, we're justifiably proud of our team," Cal Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said.
Here are five things to watch at the Stillwater super regional.
OSU RELIEF: Oklahoma State's middle relief is outstanding, and closer Brendan McCurry is an All-America-caliber player. McCurry is 5-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 19 saves and middle reliever Vince Wheeland is 10-0 with a 1.53 ERA. The Cowboys' relievers have combined to go 31-2 with 21 saves. The bullpen has racked up 282 strikeouts in 316 2-3 innings for a 2.39 ERA.
IRVINE STARTERS: The Anteaters have a 2.82 team ERA. Elliot Surrey (7-4, 2.13 ERA) will start the opener and Andrew Morales (10-2, 1.64) will start Game 2. Morales was the Big West Pitcher of the Year. Reliever Sam Moore is one of the nation's best.
FISH'S HEALTH: Ankles always have a high risk of re-injury. Fish's was severe enough to keep him out of the final three games of the Big 12 tournament. He is Oklahoma State's best power hitter, and any time without him could be problematic with so much at stake.
HEAVY HITTERS: UC Irvine has a solid one-two punch in Connor Spencer and Taylor Sparks. Spencer, the most outstanding player of the Corvallis Regional, is hitting .364 with team highs of 43 RBIs and 15 doubles. Sparks is hitting .297 with 14 doubles, a team-high eight triples and five homers.
INCONSISTENT IRVINE: Knocking off the nation's No. 1 overall seed on the road required a high level of focus that will be difficult to duplicate, and the Anteaters have been inconsistent. They were one of the last teams to make the NCAA field after losing their last eight conference games during the regular season.