If you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ. At least that’s what the Oklahoma State baseball team’s mindset is as they open conference play against reigning Big 12 champion Baylor at 3 p.m. Friday at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
“We respect Baylor a lot,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “They have a great team and great program. They won the conference last year, so all the things they have done I’m certainly aware of. But when the first pitch is thrown, nothing in the past matters. It’s who plays well on that day and who is fundamentally sound from that first pitch on.”
The Bears (10-12) may be the defending champs, but this isn’t exactly the same team that took the Big 12 regular season title. Baylor is hitting just .257 as a team and the pitching staff has a 3.80 ERA as the Bears have dropped six of their last nine games.
All that doesn’t matter to Holliday, though.
“We have to show up Friday, prepare well and continue to do the little things that have allowed us to be successful to this point,” Holliday said. “The opponent really should never dictate your approach. Your approach should be sound from the start. You should be able to maintain that and we’ll continue to preach the things that are winning baseball.”
While Baylor may be reeling heading into the Big 12 opener for both teams, the Cowboys (18-3) are riding high on a wave of momentum.
Oklahoma State brings a seven-game winning streak into Friday’s game. The Cowboys are hitting .375 as a team and have not committed an error during the streak.
“Guys are out here working all the time, especially our infielders,” Oklahoma State sophomore Gage Green said. “They’re the best guys out there right now. They’re scooping up everything. Our pitchers are throwing strikes, competing and letting the defense work. We’ve got some guys that can really play and make plays out there.”
With the defense playing the way it has, winning nine of the last 10 may have looked easy for the Pokes, but it was anything but. Teams like Loyola Marymount, Missouri State and even Wednesday night’s game against Southeastern Oklahoma challenged the Cowboys.
But Holliday says it’s those early tests that will prove vital as the Cowboys begin the conference season against traditional powerhouses like Baylor and Texas.
“We played a good schedule early,” Holliday said. “I don’t care what anybody thinks of our schedule. New Mexico is a really good team, Loyola Marymount proved to be a very solid team, UC Davis was a solid team, Missouri State has a winning record. We played ballclubs that have given us a good look and given us the sightline that we needed in the pre-conference schedule to get ready for the conference clubs and I’m real comfortable with our mindset heading into Friday.”
Holliday may be comfortable with the team’s mindset, but he admitted that there are still some butterflies as he prepares for his first conference game as the Cowboys’ coach.
“I’ve been in some pretty tough conferences across the country and I love conference play,” Holliday said. “I love the challenge of seeing the best teams and what they bring to the table. That’s why you’re in this business. We look forward to a great challenge and we’ll expect Baylor to do the same. We’ll prepare ourselves to show up Friday and play a good game.”
Nick Snow is a sports reporter for the Stillwater NewsPress.