STILLWATER — Frank Anderson had his ace on the mound, his closer ready in the bullpen and his Cowboys holding a 2-0 lead over No. 10 Texas A&M with one out in the ninth inning Thursday night.
Anderson, too, faced a decision.
A familiar decision. Except this time it backfired.
The Oklahoma State coach stuck with starter Andrew Heaney, who had cruised into the ninth and owned a résumé that featured a Big 12-best five complete games, three of those shutouts.
“You can second-guess it,” Anderson said. “I can second-guess it.”
That's standard procedure when things go awry, as they did for the Cowboys, with the Aggies rallying to tie, then winning it 5-2 in 13 innings on Matt Juengel's three-run home run.
For OSU, seemingly needing quality wins to strengthen itself for NCAA Tournament consideration, it was a major blow, not just the loss, but the way the Cowboys lost, with victory two outs away. The Cowboys also missed a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the Big 12, after Texas had lost to Baylor earlier. OSU entered the day tied with the Longhorns and Aggies for second.
Now the Cowboys are 13-9 in the conference, 32-21 overall, and still looking to make a mark.
“They're kind of playing with house money,” Heaney said of the Aggies, “seeing how they're locked into a regional, ranked in the top 10. We're playing for our lives right now. That's what makes this even tougher.
“We pretty much know we need to get two out of three here or win the Big 12 Tournament if we want to be for-sure in the (NCAA) Tournament.”
Thursday night's loss isn't on Heaney, far from it, with the Cowboys leaving the bases loaded in the ninth and the 11th and stranding 14 runners total on the night.
He'd pitched masterfully into the ninth, striking out 12, scattering three hits and not allowing an A&M runner past second base, set to claim an anticipated major mound matchup with the Aggies' Michael Wacha that had drawn some 50 scouts to the ballpark more than two hours before first pitch.
A Gage Green home run in the third and an unearned run in the seventh seemingly put the Cowboys and Heaney in good shape.
“We were very fortunate,” said Aggies coach Rob Childress. “Heaney's as good of a pitcher as we've seen all year long. He and Michael Wacha locked horns. I thought Green's home run was going to stand up, as in control of the game he was.
“We made an error in the seventh to extend the lead to two and it looked like 10.”
With Heaney on the mound in the ninth, that's frequently the case.
But the Aggies got something going with a leadoff single. Then they got a break, as Jacob House bounced a ball back to Heaney, who barehanded and threw to second, but high, getting the force, but missing an opportunity for a double play.
Troy Stein, who had struck out his previous three times up, followed with a double into the right-field corner to score the first run, signaling the first real sign of trouble for Heaney.
And Blake Barnes, the Big 12 earned-run average leader for league-only games, was warm.
“That's a big decision point in the game right there,” Anderson said. “But I felt like Andrew had been through it and he'd done it numerous times.
“And Barnes was good when he came in. Which leads you to think, ‘Hey, what would have happened?'”
What did happen: Brandon Wood sent a shot over the head of center fielder Saulyer Saxon, scoring the tying run. Then Barnes came on to strike out the next two batters.
“I felt fine,” said Heaney, who was only at 100 pitches entering the ninth. “I felt like I always do. I'm a little tired, but that's how you always are in the ninth inning, especially in a pressure game like this. You're going to feel it a little more.
“I just fell behind, didn't make pitches, gave up some hits. And there it went.
“I wanted to finish it. I tried to go out there and finish it. I didn't get it done.”
The Cowboys missed an opportunity to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Hunter Bailey popped out to second and Robbie Rea struck out.