CWS 2016: Hatch Leads Oklahoma State To Victory In Opening Game

OMAHA—Thomas Hatch woke up at 9:30 a.m., Omaha time. It had taken the Oklahoma State righthander a little longer than usual to fall asleep the night before—knowing what was ahead of him. But otherwise, Hatch kept his routine Saturday morning largely the same.

Turning Point: Oklahoma State began the fourth inning with three straight singles from Corey Hassel, Donnie Walton and Garrett Benge, the last of which brought home the only run of the game.
The Hero: Oklahoma State righthander Thomas Hatch threw a five-hit shutout to lead Oklahoma State to a 1-0 victory. It was the first time the Cowboys have thrown a shutout in the CWS since 1986, a game started by current pitching coach Rob Walton. He struck out seven batters, walked one and, at one point, retired 12 straight hitters. He has thrown 26 straight scoreless innings, including 23 in the NCAA Tournament.
You Might Have Missed: Oklahoma State second baseman J.R. Davis went 2-for-4, including the first hit of the 2015 CWS, a leadoff single in the first inning. It was his 24th multi-hit game of the season, tied for the most on the team.
Box Score

He didn’t wash his dirtied hat—he hasn’t touched it throughout the NCAA tournament. He left his cleats dirty, too. All common baseball superstition. He ate breakfast, watched some film, then headed to T.D. Ameritrade Park Omaha and shagged fly balls in the outfield—as he always does before he pitches. His catcher, junior Collin Theroux, said Hatch is one of the calmest, steadiest people he’s ever met, the one pitcher on his staff he never needs to say anything to.

But even as Hatch went through his typical routine Saturday, Theroux could see a difference in his ace. When the pair walked out of the bullpen just before their first game of the College World Series against UC Santa Barbara, Theroux noticed the typically relaxed Hatch was tenser than usual. His energy level was higher than Theroux has ever seen it.

“(I could tell by) just how hard he hit my hand before the game,” Theroux said, laughing. “. . . He was pumped up, and that definitely got me going because he’s usually a little calm.”

It was easy to see the side effects of that extra adrenalin early on. Hatch kept missing high to his arm side, his typically low arm slot was higher than it should’ve been, his power two-seamer was flat. But—as he always seems to do—Hatch made the appropriate adjustments. He found himself. And he carried Oklahoma State to a 1-0 win, almost singlehandedly, throwing a complete-game shutout and outdueling Gauchos ace Shane Bieber—who allowed one run in eight innings—on 112 pitches. You can see highlights here.

“Two excellent pitchers squaring off, pounding the strike zone and a high-level baseball game to start the College World Series off—we feel fortunate to win,” said Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, whose team won its first World Series game since 1993. “We are excited about just the effort that Thomas put out there. A lot of courage. It’s not the easiest game in the world to pitch.”

Hatch’s shutout was the first for Oklahoma State in the College World Series since 1986—started by current Cowboys pitching coach Rob Walton. For Hatch, it was simply the latest postseason gem in a string of them. He hasn’t allowed a run in 26 postseason innings dating back to the Big 12 tournament, throwing back-to-back seven-inning scoreless outings in the Clemson Regional and Columbia Super Regional.

But this one was different. Pitching in the biggest game of his career—and Oklahoma State’s first CWS game since 1999—Hatch walked the second batter he faced and continuously had to dance out of danger through the first four innings he pitched.

“I’ll tell you what, his first four innings, it was probably looking to be his worst outing of the year,” Theroux said. “His pitch count was up. He wasn’t hitting his spots. He was getting hit hard, and once he found himself he was pretty good. He’s a pretty good pitcher, man.”

Hatch was quick to credit both Theroux and his pitching coach Walton for helping him avert disaster—so effusive he was in his praise that Holliday interjected and said, “You can take some credit, Thomas. Some.”

“(Walton’s) calling the pitches,” Hatch said. “It’s half him, half me. A lot of it is Collin, my defense. There’s too many halves there. But there’s a lot that goes into it. It’s crazy. Coming into the game I was just trying to go deep in the game to give my team a chance.”

“And (UC Santa Barbara’s) pitching was incredible, too. High execution level. And it was really fun. Pitching a 1-0 shutout, it’s tough.”

The Bieber-Hatch matchup was a clash of two elite college arms, both drafted in the first four rounds. Bieber (12-4, 2.74), whom the Indians drafted in the fourth round, was a tough-luck complete-game loser, allowing just one run on six hits, walking none and striking out six in eight efficient innings.

The lone blip in the afternoon came in the fourth, when he allowed three straight singles, the third, by cleanup hitter Garrett Benge, driving in the game’s only run. Thanks to an athletic leaping catch and unassisted double play by shortstop Clay Fisher, Bieber was able to avoid further damage. But unfortunately for him, the Gauchos simply couldn’t put anything together against Hatch.

Once Hatch (Cubs, third round) settled down, he faced the minimum from the fifth inning through the eighth, striking out four batters in that span. His two-seamer consistently sat 92-93 mph, touching as high as 95 mph, and he mixed in a sharp 81-83 mph slider and 78-80 mph changeup liberally.

“Early on I was worried,” Theroux said. “I told him after the game, ‘You were scaring me there.’ . . . He was flat, just kind of missing spots. But once he and Rob got together and made that adjustment, I think . . . the adrenalin wore off a little bit. And he got back to what he was doing, which was hitting his spots incredibly with movement, which is at a really high level what he does. He’s doing it with a changeup, slider and fastball.”

Hatch (9-2, 1.89) came back out for the ninth with 102 pitches, and he struck out the powerful Austin Bush with the potential tying run on first base to end the game.

The beginning of Saturday’s game might’ve seemed inauspicious, but the ending was the kind the Cowboys have come to expect from Hatch in the postseason. After the last out was made, Hatch threw his arms up in excitement, embraced Theroux in front of home plate, and the batterymates exchanged praise.

“We both just told each other that we love each other,” Theorux said, “and great job.”

When it comes to Hatch this postseason, that’s all part of the routine.

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