STILLWATER, Okla. — Since winning the Big 12 Conference Tournament championship Sunday in Oklahoma City, there’s been some good and bad news regarding the Oklahoma State baseball program.
A couple of hours after their second conference tournament title in three years, the Cowboys learned they would be one of 16 NCAA Regional hosts this week. That’s all they knew, as the rankings were released Monday morning.
In anticipation of the NCAA Tournament selection show, the Cowboys hosted a watch party inside the Allie P. Reynolds Stadium clubhouse Monday. The Cowboys quickly learned early in the show they weren’t one of the top eight national seeds, which will host next week’s Super Regional best-of-three series should they win this week’s NCAA Regional – also on their home field.
OSU was one spot from being a national seed.
Big 12 foe Texas Tech, which won the regular season conference title, earned the No. 8 seed. OSU was announced as the No. 9 seed, which means the two Big 12 schools could face off again at a Super Regional in Lubbock, Texas, if both should advance.
“Yeah, I was actually kind of shocked,” OSU senior catcher Colin Simpson said. “We were in the talk and I don’t pay a lot of attention to numbers, but I heard we have the No. 2 strength of schedule and our RPI was No. 7 or something like that. I’d definitely say more than just me were pretty shocked we didn’t get a national seed.”
Although the Cowboys weren’t named a national seed, they were one of three Big 12 teams – along with Texas Tech and West Virginia – to be named a regional host. It’s the first time OSU will host an NCAA Regional since 2015 and the third time since seventh-year coach Josh Holliday returned to his alma mater.
However, the news came Monday morning that the Stillwater Regional won’t actually be played in Stillwater. Historic Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, which is in its final season after opening in 1981, won’t be the host site for the regional.
The amount of rainfall recently – more than 12 inches since May 15 according to an OSU release – has made the outfield of Reynolds Stadium unplayable.
Thus, OSU will host the Oklahoma City Regional at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, beginning at noon Friday when Nebraska and Connecticut play. OSU will play Harvard at 6 p.m. Friday in the first round.
“Obviously we had every intention of playing here, but as you know, weather is not something you can control,” Holliday said. “The amount of rain we’ve received in the past week, as well as what’s on the way, the facility and the risk of it not being playable on the outfield is just something we couldn’t afford to risk. We’re thankful that Oklahoma City is giving us a chance to host this great tournament in a ballpark and a setting that will be awesome. As much as we’d love to play here, we’re very much looking forward to playing at a place where we have great memories. Kids have great imagery right now in their minds of Bricktown and the crowd there and the overall experience we had.
“Sometimes you have to take situations as they come and make the very best of them, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. The administration has been awesome getting this put together in a short amount of time. We appreciate the NCAA working with us to make sure that our team gets a chance to host a regional in an area that’s to our advantage from the standpoint of sharing it with our fans and playing in a great facility.”
On Monday, Holliday said the Cowboys hadn’t been at home since Tuesday when they left for the week in OKC. During that time, the OSU grounds crew worked to get the field ready for this week, but several inches of rain to already soaked ground that doesn’t drain well has created a problem.
Last week, Holliday and OSU officials found themselves a contingency plan for the NCAA Regional.
“While we were in Oklahoma City, we checked to see if there was any place to play that had a high-level drainage system that could handle high amounts of rain in a short amount of time,” Holliday said. “Thankfully Oklahoma City was willing to partner with us on this opportunity.
“… In many ways, we’re very lucky that another option is even available, because the last thing you’d want to see happen is have a major tournament being played here and see thunderstorms for four or five straight days. What are you going to do?”
One drawback for the Cowboys is they won’t be sleeping on their own beds this weekend. After Sunday’s championship, Simpson said he was looking forward to sleeping at home this week when the regional was expected to be in Stillwater.
Plans have changed. The Cowboys will be in a hotel this weekend, just a few days after five-straight nights in an OKC hotel.
“Luckily I get to be in my own bed for a couple days before we leave, but I’m just really looking forward to regionals,” Simpson said. “Yeah, you’d like to be at home and in your own atmosphere, but I think Bricktown is kind of like our own atmosphere. It’s kind of like a home field. Even when we were in the Big 12 Championship, that place was flooded with bright orange and there were only a couple of West Virginia fans there. So even though it’s not actually home, it’s like a second home field for us.”
Holliday agreed, saying the rain has caused many worse problems across the state, so sleeping in a hotel is just another change they’ll deal with this weekend.
“We’ll sleep here for three or four nights, that’s enough,” Holliday said. “Nice hotels down there. Hopefully, we’ll be able to set up shop again in the Bricktown area – the kids have some familiarity and comfort with it. It will be great. It will be great for the team’s coming here.”
“Would we love to play here?” Holliday asked. “Of course, that goes without saying. It’s a non-topic, but you’ve got to be willing to adjust and be flexible sometimes. There is nobody in the state of Oklahoma that wants this rain, or deal with these tornadoes or flooding, but it is what it is so you just make the best of it.”
While it’s not the friendly confines of Reynolds Stadium, OSU is quite familiar with Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. OSU played a Bedlam game there earlier this season before winning the Big 12 tournament in the same ballpark.
It’s a familiar place for the Cowboys, and that’s the reassurance they need before they begin playing Friday.
“It helps a lot. I think we play really well in that ballpark,” Simpson said. “We love it. I love playing there. We know that field really, really well. We’ve played there a lot. Even though we moved sites, it helps a lot to know that field and to have played there a bunch.”
The Cowboys drew a large crowd Sunday afternoon in OKC, despite fans not knowing if OSU would win its first game that day. A loss to TCU Sunday morning would have ended their tournament run one game shy of the title contest.
Holliday and his players are hoping for another large crowd for this week’s regional, since OSU fans will be in OKC watching their softball team at the Women’s College World Series.
The USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium is just 10 minutes away from Bricktown Ballpark.
“It’s fantastic and I hope we can set some crazy records this weekend for fans in that area going to see the softball team and coming over to Bricktown,” Holliday said. “Why not? Let’s paint Oklahoma City orange for a weekend and make it something we can celebrate. Let’s turn lemons into lemonade, right? Make it something OSU can get after. I think we had close to 7,000 fans on a 30-minute notice on Sunday, right? So, we’ve got a four- or five-day notice. Let’s pack Bricktown, make it orange and create some special moments and keep it rolling.”