While Super Regional play will begin for many teams today, South Carolina and Oklahoma State will lock horns starting tomorrow thanks to the Gamecocks’ regional final being delayed earlier this week. The Cowboys, of course, are coming off a victory over Clemson in the Tigers’ regional and are playing in their second Super Regional since 2014. For the Gamecocks, they are in for the first time since 2013, the last of four straight Super Regional appearances.
So who are these Cowboys, anyway? We caught up with Cade Webb, the manager of our sister site Cowboys Ride For Free (SB Nation’s Oklahoma State blog), to get some answers and insight.
This is the Cowboys' second Super Regional in four seasons. As someone who's seen more of the team than we have, what have been the keys to their success?
With Oklahoma State, the majority of the success this season has been built on the defense and pitching. OSU is very solid defensively, and has Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Thomas Hatch to boot. Jensen Elliott is a true freshman, but has been pitching especially well of late, going six full innings against Clemson with eight strikeouts. If OSU is going to succeed in this super regional, it's going to be because they got good pitching and solid defense. When the bats come alive for OSU, they are a very tough team to beat. That's how they dominated Clemson 20-4 over two games.
This team struggled a little bit out of the gate (going 2-5 to start the season) but appeared to have really hit their stride once they hit April. What were some of the things that you saw that changed from the beginning of the season in March to where they are now?
The 2-5 start, while unimpressive and disappointing, did include three walk off losses on the road at North Carolina. So, while they did lose three straight, it could've been much better. That being said, I think the team just finally accepted their identity as a defense-first team. Their power at the plate isn't going to wow you, but they play small ball well, and they've accepted that. When they were able to finally figure out how they were going to win games, I think they gained more confidence as the season went on.
You have a pitcher in Thomas Hatch that came off of a partial UCL tear last year and ended up pitching an All-American season. How has he been able to bounce back and get himself to a point where he's a valuable arm for this pitching rotation?
Thomas Hatch has bounced back admirably. You really can't say enough about what he's done to get back to the level he was at before a fairly serious baseball injury. It takes a lot of determination and skill to be able to bounce back like that. He is what makes the engine go. He tossed a shutout in the win over Nebraska in the regional, and it looks as if he will get the mound on Friday. Expect to see a fiery performance from him.
Can you tell us about the overall makeup of the Big 12? Most years, it's been Texas at or near the top of that league, but here we are with all three teams that made it to regionals (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and TCU) heading into Super Regionals this weekend. Where does the Big 12 stack up when it comes to other conferences nationally?
The term you could use to best describe the Big 12 is "top heavy." While there are teams in OU, West Virginia, and Texas who certainly can jump up and beat you any day, the talent level is just too large between the first and second tier teams. You could make the argument that West Virginia should have made a regional as well. That being said, you look at the talent on the teams you mentioned and all of them have multiple All Americans. It's a talent thing with the Big 12. Compared to other conferences, you can see how they stack up by just looking at the teams in the super regionals. The SEC has five teams, the ACC has four, and the Big 12 has three. Both of those conferences are much larger than the Big 12, as the Big 12 only has nine teams total. That being said, the SEC and ACC are always going to have perennial power teams, and will always be among the best in baseball.