STILLWATER – Oklahoma State readied for a Reynolds Stadium rally in a baseball season on the brink of slipping away.
The next to last Big 12 team to play a conference home game, the Cowboys' first two league weekends went awry on the road. Finally back in their own ballpark, there was talk of a turnaround.
Then there was need for a turnaround Friday night, down five runs to Kansas through four innings and still trailing 6-4 going to their final at-bat.
But after so much close-game and late-inning heartache, the Cowboys flipped their fate this time, scoring three in the ninth on clutch hits by Hunter Bailey and Jared Womack to rescue a 7-6 walk-off win in the series opener.
True impact of the comeback will take time to measure, yet the bench-clearing mob scene surrounding Womack – who singled in the game-winner – spoke to what it meant for at least one night.
“You don't want to say your snake bit, but we've had some strange things happen,” said Cowboys coach Frank Anderson. “For them, they've never quit competing. They didn't quit competing today when we got down.
“Yeah, we needed something good to happen. It's whatever it is, but we haven't had something like that turn for us. So we needed that.”
OSU improved to 15-14 overall and 2-5 in the Big 12, while Kansas dropped to 12-17 and 2-5. Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The Cowboys won despite an uncharacteristic rough outing by ace Andrew Heaney, their most bankable asset for much of this season, who allowed two home runs and was lifted after the fifth with OSU trailing 5-4.
They won after entering the game with a 1-12 record when trailing after eight innings.
And they won in a way that seemed to go against the grain of their season story, which has been marked by bad hops and bad breaks.
“It was big, very big,” Heaney said. “We scuffled a little bit coming into the Big 12. This was our first home series, we felt like if we could take care of business this weekend and get everything turned around, we'd be fine.
“We just need to get something good going. It's felt almost like we're playing against more than the other team, like something else is fighting us. It's nice to finally have something go your way.”
The Cowboys started their rally in the ninth off Jayhawks starter Frank Duncan, who was trying to finish off a strong outing.
Trey Whaley opened the inning with a five-pitch walk, before Duncan hit Gabe Weidenaar with a pitch. After reliever Robert Kahana relieved Duncan, pinch hitter Saulyer Saxon moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.
Then Kahana hit pinch hitter Victor Romero with a pitch, loading the bases for Bailey, who drilled a 3-2 pitch the opposite way for a two-run double.
“(Kahana's) got a good slider, so I was looking slider until the count got full,” Bailey said, “then I was looking fastball, something to hit to right field.”
With the game tied, Kansas elected to walk Cowboys leadoff man Jarrett Higgins to load the bases in hopes of a double play ball.
Instead, Womack laced a Kahana offering up the middle, setting off the celebration.
“A pretty special experience,” Womack said.
For Bailey and Womack, veterans who entered the game batting .211 and .154 in league play, the hits came at an opportune time.
“Hopefully, that'll jumpstart us and we'll start winning some games,” Bailey said.
Along with the clutch hits, the Cowboys got four shutout innings from reliever Blake Barnes, who allowed just two hits and kept the Jayhawks within reach.
While decisive wins are generally preferred, winning the way OSU seemed to prove more satisfying, if not more valuable.
“Honestly, in the spot we're at in this season, I think that was much more important than a 10-0 win,” Womack said. “We battled back, we showed some resiliency. Heaney didn't have his best stuff today. We were able to pick him up in the pen and at the plate.
“It was an uplifting situation for the team.”