OKLAHOMA CITY — Against a fourth-seeded opponent that represents the Ivy League, some coaches might have been tempted to go with a second or third starting pitcher.
Not Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, who for Friday night’s NCAA regional opener handed the starting assignment to ace Jensen Elliott.
While OSU’s offense mustered only six hits, Elliott was methodically dominant. Over seven innings, the junior right-hander walked just one batter and allowed three hits (none of which went for extra bases).
Before a Bricktown Ballpark crowd of 5,762, OSU’s Peyton Battenfield finished with two shutout innings and the top-seeded Cowboys finished with a 2-0 victory. The final out was recorded only 2½ hours after the first pitch.
“Once again, Jensen was fantastic,” Holliday said. “He was up to the task, man. And then Peyton was awfully good behind him.
“Our infield defense was exceptional. Hueston Morrill was all over the place at second base.”
The top-seeded Cowboys (37-18) will play former Big Eight/Big 12 rival Nebraska in a winners bracket game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Harvard’s Ben Skinner led off the ninth by doubling to the deepest part of the outfield — to the base of the digital clock in left-center — but Battenfield kept his cool and retired the Crimson (27-15) on a ground ball and two strikeouts.
“Honestly,” said Elliott (10-3), “the game is over when it gets to Peyton, especially when it’s the eighth inning. Peyton does a great job. I’m very confident when we hand the ball down.”
Harvard countered Elliott’s excellence with a strong start by Hunter Bigge, who totaled nine strikeouts in six innings but made a couple of first-inning mistakes on which the Cowboys capitalized.
Christian Funk singled and Colin Simpson doubled down the field-field line. Andrew Navigato grounded out to shortstop, scoring Funk with the first run.
In the fourth inning, Navigato and Trevor Boone singled. Navigato scored from third on a wild pitch, and that was the extent of the OSU scoring.
“Both starting pitchers did a heck of a job,” said Harvard coach Bill Decker, whose team plays UConn at 1 p.m. Saturday in the losers bracket.
In reference to Elliott’s precision, Harvard catcher Jake Allen said, “It’s something you don’t see in the Ivy League a whole lot — command like that.”
Several of the Bricktown Ballpark patrons were here in support of Allen, an Enid native. Watching from a box behind the Harvard dugout was former big-league superstar closer Trevor Hoffman, the father of Crimson second baseman Quinn Hoffman.
“(Harvard) wasn’t the least bit overwhelmed by this,” Holliday said. “We needed to be on point tonight. It’s a message to our team that we’re starting over in tournament play.”
Nebraska 8, UConn 5
After UConn bolted to a three-run lead, third-seeded Nebraska was saved by its bullpen and wound up with the victory in the first game.
Over 4 ⅓ innings, second-seeded UConn (36-25) was held scoreless by Nebraska relievers Robbie Palkert and Colby Gomes. Huskers third baseman Angelo Altavilla belted his fourth home run of the season and Gunner Hellstrom was responsible for three for Nebraska’s 13 hits.
A Pat Winkel homer drove the Huskies to a 4-1 advantage through two innings. Nebraska and UConn combined for 32 hits and 20 runners left on base.
OKLAHOMA STATE 2, HARVARD 0
Harvard 000 000 000 — 0 4 1
OSU 100 100 00x — 2 6 0
Bigge, Stefanoni (7) and Allen; Elliott, Battenfield (8) and Simpson. W: Elliott (10-3). L: Bigge (7-2).
NEBRASKA 8, UCONN 5
Nebraska 014 011 001 — 8 13 0
UConn 220 010 000 — 5 19 1
Fisher, Palkert (5), Gomes (9) and Hellstrom; Feole, Dandeneau (6), Wurster (7) and Winkel. W: Palkert (6-3). L: Feole (3-4). HR: NU, Altavilla (4); UConn, Winkel (7).