STILLWATER – Oklahoma State’s Craig McConaughy pleaded with ball as it sailed toward the left-field fence in Austin.
He wasn’t wishing for it to get out, just to not be an out.
Such is the mindset when your career home run total is stuck on zero.
Except mindsets are changing when it comes to OSU.
McConaughy’s ball did get out, spotting the Cowboys an early Sunday lead on their way to a series win at Texas, solidifying their status as the team to beat in the Big 12.
(Story continued below...)
OSU, ranked as high as No. 9 nationally at 31-13 overall, tops the league standings at 13-5, with second-place TCU at 10-5. Taking two-of-three from the Longhorns, the Cowboys have now won five straight league series for the first time since 2008. They’re rising in the rankings and the RPI, putting them in play as a possible NCAA Regional host.
After dropping Game 1 in Austin, OSU came back with a 2-1 win Saturday and an 8-3 romp Sunday.
“We took the first one on the chin and jumped back up the last two days and really showed a tremendous amount of character, skill and desire to compete,” said Cowboys coach Josh Holliday, who has placed himself in the National Coach of the Year conversation.
“When you see that out of your players and see the job your coaches do of preparing and having a game plan, it’s very rewarding.”
OSU takes a break from Big 12 play this week, playing at Wichita State on Wednesday night before hosting Arizona State in a three-game series this weekend. The Cowboys close conference play with a series at last-place Kansas State, followed by Bedlam and the slumping Sooners.
So a conference championship – what would be OSU’s first regular-season Big 12 championship – is within sight.
“We’re definitely a pretty confident team right now,” said McConaughy, the team’s third baseman. “We’re trying to take it pitch by pitch right now and not get too wide-eyed and stay pretty level-headed. But we’re pretty excited.”
There was a jolt of excitement, too, when McConaughy’s fly ball carried over the left-field wall, giving OSU a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
“When I hit it, I didn’t think it was going out,” said McConaughy, an Austin product who played at Westwood High. “Their left fielder, Ben Johnson, he went to my high school. The entire time running to first base, I was telling him not to catch it. I was just hoping he wasn’t going to make a play on it.
“Then I saw him pull up at the fence and I realized it was going out.”
(Story continued below...)
McConaughy hadn’t worked on his home run trot in two seasons as a Cowboy, with his last home run coming at Navarro Junior College.
“I thought I slowed down, but I was looking at the replay and I was definitely striding around second base,” he said. “I was just glad it gave the team a 2-0 lead to kind of get things going. It was nice.”
Holliday had some fun with his sudden slugger.
“I think that’s the first ball I’ve ever seen him hit over the fence,” Holliday said. “Let alone a home run in a game, I’ve never seen him hit one out in batting practice. For an Austin kid to walk into a ballpark where you probably watched games as a kid and to hit a home run, get three hits, play great defense – and there’s not a more team-oriented, genuine giver of his energy and desire to play than Craig – our kids were so jacked for him after that home run.”
Said McConaughy: “I’ve hit a couple out in batting practice. But I’m definitely not a guy who’s looking to put on a show. I think a lot of guys on the team were as surprised as I was when the ball went out.”
He went 6-for-11 in the series, turning his return home before family and friends into a memorable weekend.
And the home run and the series win came with an added edge, being against the Longhorns, although not because of any feelings of being passed over by the hometown team.
“As a matter of fact, both my mom and my sister went to Texas A&M,” McConaughy said. “We were Aggies growing up, so my mom especially didn’t like UT very much.
“I went to quite a few games just to go see some college baseball, but we were definitely Aggie fans growing up. It was nice for my mom especially to get to see me beat UT.”