STILLWATER – When the season ended abruptly and disappointingly late Saturday night, Cowboys baseball coach Josh Holliday struggled with reflection.
It was too soon.
“I'm not ready,” Holliday said.
The season still rings as special. In just the second year under Holliday’s direction, Oklahoma State won 48 games – a program high since 1994 – won the Big 12 regular season title, won a regional championship and hosted a Super Regional for the first time.
And the Cowboys did it in a gritty, united fashion, with a unique chemistry playing into an approach that saw them grind daily and deliver a telling 28 come-from-behind wins.
This was a tight, close ball club that connected, players and coaches alike.
“It’s an amazing program,” said senior pitcher Vince Wheeland, who gave the Cowboys an inspirational start in Saturday’s eventual 1-0 loss to UC Irvine. “I couldn’t have asked to play at a better place.
“I just love this team that I have been on, and we just had a great chemistry the whole time.”
Holliday might have inherited some of the Cowboys, but eventually, he claimed them all as his own.
“More than anything, I am proud of the accomplishment of a group of people to 100 percent give to each other,” Holliday said. “I don’t know how to explain that to you guys because it’s something that when you’re with them every single day you see it in every single fashion. It is something for many of us that we will always cherish.
“We don’t get to keep playing, but it’s going to last forever because of what we earned.”
The program appears built to last.
OSU will lose several key seniors: Wheeland, closer Brendan McCurry, first baseman Tanner Krietemeier, third baseman Craig McConaughy, outfielders Saulyer Saxon and Aaron Cornell and pitcher Mark Robinette.
Major League Baseball’s amateur draft shouldn’t dent the roster significantly, although junior outfielder and Big 12 Player of the Year Zach Fish bears watching, as he could be tempted to begin his pro career after being taken in the 11th round by Chicago White Sox. Starting pitcher Jon Perrin, another junior, was taken by Detroit, although not until the 33rd round.
OSU’s recruiting class, which figures to be ranked among the nation’s best, shouldn’t be heavily impacted by the draft, either.
“The seniors, we all exit out of this program as a better place,” Wheeland said. “It’s going to only get better. You saw what we were able to do already. I believe they’re going to get even better and accomplish even more.”
Cal Irvine coach Mike Gillespie, a longtime veteran of the college game, heaped praise on the Cowboys.
“Oklahoma State deserves high marks for picking Josh Holliday as their coach,” Gillespie said. “Oklahoma State baseball is an elite program and will be for a long time.”
This season restored elite-level success to the program. The Cowboys came close to securing a College World Series berth, only to be denied by a hot team and hotter pitching.
Still, the next step – to Omaha – could come soon. OSU will return a cast of strong, young pitchers, as well as everyday players such as shortstop Donnie Walton, second baseman Tim Arakawa and outfielders Gage Green and Conor Costello. Replacements appear in place to plug and play.
“The young guys will have to grow up now and inherit the responsibility to perform,” Holliday said. “So many of these guys were so fantastic at that. They need to inherit the need to lead and grow up to try to grow into their own skin. They have to replace the roles and efforts of kids like Vince Wheeland, Brendan McCurry, Tanner Krietemeier, Craig McConaughy and I could go on and on of every single kid that was in that uniform, but is moving on because of graduation or moving onto professional baseball.
“This program is healthy and full of young people who now have a taste of what it’s like to get this far but have a better understanding of what it takes to get that next step.”