NORMAN, Okla. – Washington State got only three hits during Saturday’s NCAA Regional baseball game against Wichita State.
Turned out, the Cougars needed only two of them.
Back-to-back home runs by Derek Jones and Jared Prince lifted WSU to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory at the University of Oklahoma’s Mitchell Park in an elimination game.
The Cougars, who lost to Arkansas in the regional opener, play the loser of Oklahoma-Arkansas in another elimination game today at 11 a.m. PDT.
“Baseball, when you think about it, is a crazy game,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said. “We only get three hits, but they came up big.
“Those were two big swings by Jones and Prince, who were the difference.”
WSU (32-24) overcame a stellar complete-game pitching effort from Shockers freshman Jordan Cooper, who put the Cougars on their heels at the plate for most of the game.
Cooper struck out 10 batters while walking one, and kept the Cougars from placing a runner in scoring position through the first five innings.
But after recording an out in the sixth, Cooper’s next six pitches changed the game.
After walking Jay Ponciano on four straight balls, Cooper hung a breaking pitch that Jones smacked over the right-field fence.
“I was kind of struggling and feeling the pressure to perform,” said Jones, who tied a school record for home runs by a freshman with 12. “But I got a pitch I could get a good swing on and it changed the ball game.”
Cooper came back with a fastball, but Prince hammered the pitch so hard all the Wichita State left fielder could do was turn and watch as the ball sailed over his head and the wall.
“Jones put a great swing on a breaking ball,” Prince said, “which is why he went right to a fastball with me.
“And I didn’t miss it.”
Cooper shut down the WSU offense the rest of the way. But the damage was done, as the Cougars left the sixth leading 3-1, a lead the bullpen would not relinquish this time.
“Jordan Cooper threw a whale of a game,” said Shockers coach Gene Stephenson, whose club ended the season 30-27. “I know he’d like to have those two pitches back. But you can’t be perfect and we needed to be better offensively.”
As an encore to Matt Way’s pitching gem Friday, WSU pitcher Chad Arnold shut down Wichita State’s hitters and finished with what Marbut called “his best start in a Cougar uniform.”
Arnold went 71/3 innings, while striking out a career-high 10 batters, before handing the ball to the bullpen with a 3-2 lead.
One day after blowing a two-run lead to Arkansas by allowing the Razorbacks to score nine runs in the eighth, WSU’s bullpen returned to its reliable ways.
Relievers Adam Conley and Connor Lambert each retired a batter to end the eighth, before Jeremy Johnson, who took the loss Friday, closed out the game in the ninth to pick up his 10th save of the year.
“There is a reason why this club is here and we’re not going to change what we are doing,” Marbut said. “Obviously, (the bullpen) had a rough day yesterday.
“But they came back today and gave us their best stuff.”
Arkansas 17, Oklahoma 6: Andy Wilkins’ three-run homer in the first inning got Arkansas off to a fast start and the Razorbacks cruised to a 17-6 victory over Oklahoma (42-19).
Wilkins had four hits, and Ben Tschepikow, Scott Lyons and James McCann had three for the Razorbacks (36-22), who finished with a season-high 20 hits – eight for extra bases – against six Oklahoma pitchers.
Brett Eibner (5-4) got the victory for the Razorbacks, while Michael Rocha (5-3) failed to get out of the first.