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Pokes Cannot Shake The Walk-off Bug

The Pokes dropped to 2-5 as they were swept by UNC– all via walk-off

Oklahoma State has outscored opponents 29-26 on the year, yet they find themselves sitting with a 2-5 record through the first two series of the year. It’s been a tough start for the Cowboys, as they have seemingly been in a position to win in each of their first seven games. The problem is, however, the Pokes can’t figure out how to close games. They have fallen by just one-run in each of their five losses this year.

This past weekend was set up to be a very intriguing matchup against North Carolina as both teams were ranked in D1 Baseball’s top 15 coming into the series. And while the three games did live up to the hype, the series could not have been more heartbreaking for the Pokes. Here’s what happened:

Game 1: L 1-2

The Pokes knew that in order to win this one it was going to have to be a low-scoring game with UNC’s ace Zac Gallen on the hill. They needed a big lift from starter Andrew Hatch who delivered the Pokes their first win of the year six days earlier. Hatch pitched well again and gave the Pokes what they needed by allowing just one run in five innings of work. Gallen, on the flip side, allowed just one run in seven innings and retired nine Pokes via strikeout; this came off of an 11 strikeout performance in his first start.  North Carolina struck first in the bottom of the first but the Pokes responded right away off Garrett Benge’s solo home run, the Pokes’ first of the year. Neither team scored until the ninth when UNC’s freshman shortstop Kyle Datres knocked a double to right-center to give UNC the walk-off victory.

Two straight walk-offs? Hopefully this isn’t a trend...

Game 2: L 6-7

The Poke offense, coming off a sluggish showing a day earlier, was poised to have a breakout day in game two. And what a better way than to come out the gates and hang a four spot in the opening frame. Dustin Williams, the team-leader in home runs in 2015, was batting just .158 before he cranked a grand slam over the right field fence to give the Pokes an early 4-0 lead. It was a spark Williams needed, but most of all, the team needed it.

However, in an important shutdown inning for Poke starter Michael Mertz, UNC answered with two runs of their own. Mertz allowed the first five batters to reach base, three of which were virtue of free passes. In the third inning Williams picked up his fifth RBI of the game and extended OSU’s lead 5-2, but the Tar Heels answered in the bottom half of the inning and plated three runs to tie it. It appeared that the Pokes were going to escape the jam when they turned a 5-2-3 double play after the Tar Heels loaded the bases with nobody out, but a two-out two-run single extended the inning and UNC added another on a Cowboy error to lock things at five.

The Pokes allowed a second unearned run to cross in the fifth on a throwing error from catcher Colin Simpson to give UNC their first lead. OSU then tied things up in the eighth on a clutch two-out single from Conor Costello and set up, once again, another exciting finish for the Pokes. The game went into extra innings, marking the second time for the Pokes (the previous ended in a heartbreaking loss to Stephen F. Austin). The second time around did not provide a happier result as OSU watched the North Carolina bench mob their fellow Tar Heel for the second straight night after a bases loaded single in the bottom of the 10th. Trey Cobb was tabbed with the loss for the Pokes in his only inning of work.

It couldn’t possibly get any worse than this…

Game 3: L 3-4

Once again the Pokes offense opened the gates strong. They plated two on Donnie Walton’s homer (1) to right center but also allowed a run in the first and held a 2-1 lead. Jensen Elliott got the nod for the Pokes in the finale and went 4.2 innings deep, allowing two runs. The second run allowed came in the third on a UNC double. The Pokes broke the tie in the fifth on Dustin Williams’ RBI single and carried the 3-2 lead all the way to ninth. With the way the season had gone to date it wasn’t wrong to doubt that the Pokes could blow the lead, but you also had to have had the feeling that a fourth straight walk-off loss would be too crazy to assume. Well, if you assumed the ladder then it was your lucky day.

Tyler Buffett strolled out to the mound in his fourth inning of work to close it out for the Pokes. He had been pitching magnificently in his previous three innings, allowing just one baserunner, but walked the leadoff man, prompting Josh Holliday to call on Trey Cobb to finish the job. Cobb followed suit, however, and walked the next batter. After a sacrifice bunt that advanced both runners, the Pokes were all of a sudden in a tight position. The idea of four straight walk-off deficits started to seem almost inevitable. Just as you Poke fans were trying to toss those thoughts aside, Eli Sutherland roped a single past a diving Walton. Ryan Sluder came up with it and fired the ball just a little too far up the third base line and the winning run came into score.

Undoubtedly it was a tough weekend for the Pokes but the nice thing is the season is just seven games young. The Pokes will come home for the first time this year and play five home games this week. They welcome Incarnate Word on Tuesday and Wednesday (both 4:00 P.M. starts) and open a three game series with Indiana State on Friday.