Cowboys Rolling In Clemson

CLEMSON, S.C.—After defeating Western Carolina on Friday night to set up Saturday’s winners’ bracket matchup with Oklahoma State, Clemson coach Monte Lee said the Cowboys would be “an unbelievably tough test” and that they had been a preseason top-10 team (No. 9) for a reason.

Oklahoma State, the No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional, showed Saturday just what Lee had meant the night before. The Cowboys routed the top-seeded Tigers, 12-2, to advance to Sunday’s championship game. Clemson will play fourth-seeded Western Carolina in an elimination game Sunday. The winner of that game will need to beat Oklahoma State twice to advance to super regionals.

“I’m proud of my team, it’s a good night for us,” coach Josh Holliday said. “But it’s just one game. We’ll go home and rest and show up (Sunday) and start back over again with the preparation and focus necessary to play well again.”

The Cowboys certainly played well Saturday. They pounded out 17 hits, played solid defense and shut down the Tigers’ offense, which had scored at least five runs in its last seven games.

The depth of Oklahoma State’s lineup was on display. The Cowboys had four extra base hits—all doubles—and every player had at least one hit and an RBI. They got off to a fast start, scoring twice in the first, once in the second and blowing the game open with five runs in the third.

Oklahoma State’s early offensive outburst took some of the edge off a crowd of 5,629 fans at Kingsmore Stadium. Right fielder Corey Hassel said he heard from a lot of fans in the outfield, but enjoyed playing in that environment.

“I think we had fun with it,” he said, “We didn’t let it get us shell-shocked and we just had fun. We rode the energy, to be honest. We didn’t let it bring us down.”

The beneficiary of Oklahoma State’s offense was righthander Tyler Buffett, who silenced Clemson’s powerful offense. He held the Tigers to one run in seven innings, scattering seven hits and three walks. He improved to 7-3, 3.34.

Buffett has pitched out of the back bullpen much of the year and leads the Cowboys with nine saves. But he has starting experience, and Holliday said pitching coach Rob Walton believed Buffett would be a good matchup against Clemson.

Buffett said he tries to take the same mentality into every game, no matter what role he is used in.

“I feel like that’s kind of set me up for success the best,” he said. “If I’m going out there to start the game or to close the game, to have same mental edge, to just go and make pitches. Because if you make pitches, it doesn’t matter if you’re throwing one or nine innings.”

After Saturday’s victory, Oklahoma State is just one win away from returning to super regionals for the second time in three years. But Holliday said the Cowboys know better than to think about that possibility.

“We’re past that. We’ve grown up,” Holliday said. “We’ve been in different positions in the postseason and you can’t start thinking that way. We have a game tomorrow and a chance to come out and play well. And anything more than that would be against what we’ve worked so hard to learn as a group.”

Nebraska Eliminated As Bats Go Cold

After losing Friday’s opener, 6-0, to second-seeded Oklahoma State, third-seeded Nebraska was eliminated from the tournament Saturday with a 4-1 loss to fourth-seeded Western Carolina.

Nebraska swept Indiana on the final weekend of the regular season to finish a half-game behind Big Ten Conference champion Minnesota. But the Cornhuskers went two-and-out in the Big Ten tournament and again were eliminated after two games this weekend.

During its four-game losing streak, Nebraska scored four runs. Scott Schreiber, its best power threat, was out injured much of the skid, but the Cornhuskers problems went beyond missing one hitter.

“We couldn’t have picked a worse time to go ice cold with our bats,” coach Darin Erstad said. “Pitched well enough to win, played defense well enough to win, but offensively I wasn’t able to make the adjustments for them and there you go.”

Nebraska’s offense also went through an extended slump last year, as it went 4-10 down the stretch and missed the NCAA tournament. Erstad took responsibility for the offensive struggles.

“Last year we were 30-13 and in position to host and got ice, ice cold offensively,” he said. “This year, we turned it around and fought through that thing we had last year and we get into postseason and it came back. And there’s only one person to blame for that, and it’s me. I’m the one working with them every day and setting up the approach and I wasn’t able to get my message across at this time of year and that’s on me.”

Erstad also made it clear that simply getting to regionals is not good enough.

This was Nebraska’s second appearance in regionals in the last three years, but Erstad is not satisfied. In his five seasons as head coach, the Cornhuskers have made the tournament twice, but have gone 1-4.

Erstad said this weekend showed the Cornhuskers that they have work to do to reach the next level.

“That’s the biggest thing—we’ve got to get better,” Erstad said. “You look out there and see what you’re going against. Sometimes you get in your little bubble of reality and you think things are really good and you think you’re better than you really are.

“You understand that there’s another level of work that we have to put in. And that’s where we’re at. We’re still in that building process. This program has a short tradition of going to regionals and going to the College World Series, but that’s what’s expected. And this is unacceptable to not advance any farther than this. Bottom line is we have to get better.”

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