The Longhorns came close. But they weren't playing horseshoes or tossing hand grenades.
Sophomore right fielder Mark Payton, who drove in Texas' only run of the game in the second inning, came a few feet from hitting a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. Meanwhile, junior pitcher Hoby Milner's wild pitch with two outs and two strikes in the seventh inning allowed Oklahoma State to score the game-tying run. After the Cowboys (18-14, 5-5) scored twice off sophomore closer Corey Knebel in the 11th inning, they were able to knock off the No. 23 Longhorns (18-13, 7-3), 3-1, in their series opener Friday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Knebel, who threw 109 pitches in 6 2/3 innings of work in his last outing this past weekend against Texas Tech, got the final two outs of the eighth innings before tossing scoreless innings in the 9th and 10th. But the Cowboys knocked Knebel for three hits and the decisive two runs in the 11th. Texas head coach Augie Garrido admitted after the game that Knebel's outings have been too long this season.
"I just wish they would make their mind up if I'm going to be a reliever or closer," Knebel said. "I want to be a starter but I also like closing it out."
After Oklahoma State took its first lead with those two runs, Texas nearly responded with multiple runs in the home half of the 11th. Freshman center fielder Taylor Stell was beaned to lead off the frame before Weiss walked and Silver was also hit with a pitch. But with the bases loaded and one out, sophomore catcher Jacob Felts struck out swinging and senior shortstop Jordan Etier grounded out to second after nearly winning the game with a walk-off double down the right field line that was called foul.
"What separated the two teams was clutch hitting," Garrido said. "They got two hits with runners in scoring position and we didn't. The inability to play catch with an 0-2 count kept them in the game."
After allowing just two baserunners through his first six innings, sophomore Nathan Thornhill ran into some trouble in the seventh. Thornhill gave up a leadoff single, the first time the Cowboys put their leadoff batter on base, and issued his first walk of the night two batters later. Texas seemed like it would get out of the jam after Payton threw out Oklahoma State junior second baseman Robbie Rea at the plate on a single from senior first baseman Gabe Weidenaar.
But, immediately after replacing Thornhill with two outs and runners on the corners, Milner bounced a ball well short of the plate. The pitch got past Felts as junior right fielder Trey Whaley trotted home for the Cowboys' first run of the day, tying the game at 1-1.
Payton, who extended his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 32 by shooting an RBI double through the legs of Oklahoma State senior shortstop Hunter Bailey, nearly took the lead right back. With one out in the eighth inning, Payton lifted a ball into left field and the wind-aided drive bounced off the top of the left field wall. Payton settled for a double but was stranded on second base after Stell struck out swinging and sophomore third baseman Erich Weiss grounded out.
Junior southpaw Andrew Heaney, like Thornhill, was stuck with a no-decision despite a stellar outing. Heaney threw nine innings while scattering six hits and allowing only one run, striking out nine, and walking one. He fooled hitters like Weiss, who was hitting .464 over his last 16 games before this series, as he went 1-for-4. Sophomore first baseman Alex Silver saw his 16-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-3 performance.
The Longhorns will end the series with the Cowboys Saturday with a double-header scheduled to start 1:00 p.m. Both games will be nine innings long, with a 30-minute break between contests.