We’ve heard coaches spit clichés for years. Defense wins championships. Or in baseball lingo, pitching wins in the postseason.

True or false? On one hand, sure, run prevention clearly is crucial to winning baseball games, whether it’s March or late June. On the other, is winning in a low-run environment a more sustainable method than relying on a cluster of home runs? Maybe. Maybe not.

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But in purely anecdotal terms, we’re about to find out as it applies to Oklahoma State.

To classify the Cowboys as merely ‘stingy’ from a pitching and defense standpoint in the College World Series would be slighting them. Why? Because they have literally allowed zero runs. And here’s the twist: they’ve only crossed the plate twice themselves.

Yet here they sit, in the driver’s seat towards the College World Series finals. Using a style of play that, frankly is tough to associate with Oklahoma State baseball for the longtime college baseball observer.

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“For many years we were known as a team that just launched it over the fence and stuffed a bunch of DHs all over the field,” head coach Josh Holliday said.  “So in order to be a complete championship team, you have to place a value on defense, and that starts with how you train and your outlook.”

We’ll start with the pitching staff. Thomas Hatch and Tyler Buffett, Oklahoma State’s one-two punch of opposing lineup doom, has been brilliant in Omaha. The two have combined to fire 17 shutout innings while allowing a miniscule 11 runners to reach base in those frames.  

Often times, pitching and defense go hand in hand. Fast workers keep position players active and alert, and obviously, flashing leather aids a hurler’s cause. Oklahoma State’s defense has been outstanding fundamentally, but it’s upped its game with its web gems. In the Pokes’ second game of the College World Series, center fielder Ryan Sluder turned in this beauty on the first play of the game:

It was a sign of things to come for the rest of the evening.

What Oklahoma State is doing requires more than just talent. It’s when preparation blends with that ability. Holliday and his staff are proactive with shifts, scoping out tendencies and experimenting with unusual defensive alignments.

Several times in Oklahoma State’s first two games, we’ve seen hard-hit balls land right in a Cowboy defender’s glove, or an infield shift that’s worked to perfection. That stuff isn’t accidental. Hatch and Buffett are very good pitchers, but neither has electric stuff. They rely on their defense heavily, and Oklahoma State is putting itself in the best position to succeed.

But for as much preparation as the defense puts in, Hatch takes the opposite pregame approach. The more mindless, the better.

“The less and less you think about it and just know that it's baseball, the game you grew up loving and playing, and I mean that's what I did,” he said on Saturday. “I like to go shag before games and treat it as any other day. Just keep my mind off of thinking, really, because that's what gets you in trouble.”

It’s all about a contrast in styles.

On Friday afternoon, the Pokes will take on Arizona. The Wildcats, for their part, have been almost as incredible defensively as the Cowboys in Omaha.

In three College World Series games, the Wildcats have surrendered a grand total of two runs. The math on that: Friday afternoon’s combined matchup has allowed two runs in 45 innings in Omaha, good for a 0.40 ERA.

College World Series runs allowed
School Runs Allowed Per Game
Oklahoma State 0.0
Arizona 0.67
TCU 2.0
UC Santa Barbara 2.33
Florida 2.5
Coastal Carolina 4.0
Texas Tech 4.67
Miami 5.0
   

Thursday night’s showdown between offensive juggernauts Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech lasted three hours and 48 minutes. It was fun, but at times, a slog. Expect no such thing between Oklahoma State and Arizona on Friday.

So, is the cliché true? Does pitching win in the postseason, and does defense win championships?

After Friday, we’ll be one step closer to finding out.