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Early postseason exits becoming a trend for OSU baseball, and it doesn't make sense

Jun. 4—Oklahoma State's $60 million baseball complex has been the ultimate home field advantage since it opened in 2021. Well, most of the time at least.

In regular season games at O'Brate Stadium, the Cowboys are 87-30-1, winning nearly three out of every four home games. The program's winning ways in the regular season have translated to three consecutive NCAA regional hosting bids. That's where things have taken an unexpected turn.

Josh Holliday's squad has played 11 postseason games at its new home, and has lost more than half of them. A 5-6 record has led to back-to-back-to-back early exits in home regionals.

The historic success (20 College World Series appearances) and current competitive ways (three Big 12 titles in five years) leave no doubt that Oklahoma State deserved its state-of-the-art stadium, but the inability to protect home field when it matters most has been a shock.

It's worth noting that college baseball is perhaps the hardest collegiate sport to find consistent success in. The skill gap is razor thin from the nation's top programs to the dangerous non-power fives all the way down to the mid-majors. Now in the transfer portal era, it's even more parity-stricken than ever.

In the last 10 postseasons, regional host teams are 90-70 in advancing to supers. That means that just under 45% of the time, hosting teams lose their regionals.

In 2022, Oklahoma State was given Arkansas as a two seed, an unbelievably unlucky draw at the time. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier that year and had gone cold down the stretch. The bats heated back up and they marched through Stillwater and all the way to Omaha.

Then in 2023, the Cowboys hosted Dallas Baptist, Washington and Oral Roberts in a gauntlet of a regional. OSU went 0-2, and ORU advanced and eventually ended up in the College World Series, as well.

Things were different in 2024, and that's where the frustration sets in. After two unfavorable opponent draws in a row, OSU got Nebraska, Florida and Niagara. Rob Walton's pitching staff was the best it has been in years, and the bats were red-hot. Those components mixed with a potential Clemson Super Regional left many experts to predict a CWS run from this year's Pokes.

A 2-0 regional start found Oklahoma State a win away from advancing to supers.

3.1 innings into the potential clincher against Florida, OSU was well on its way with a 2-1 lead and the bases loaded with one out. The Gators made a desperation move to the bullpen for former All-American pitcher Brandon Neely, and that's when things changed.

Neely made the Cowboys strand five base runners over the next two innings, and he struck out a career-high 11 batters in 5.2 innings to force a decisive Game 7.

Neely extinguished the flames of the OSU lineup, and it never came back. In the winner-take-all game, the offense mustered two runs on five hits, which wasn't enough to get past Florida — effectively ending the season and sending the Pokes home once again.

It's hard to fairly encompass an entire season into the result of one or two baseball games, especially with how volatile the sport is. It's why the MLB plays 162 games and has best-of-three or best-of-seven playoff series instead of double elimination.

The worst team can beat the best team on any given day. They could even do it twice in a row. But when more games are introduced, talent eventually rises to the top, at least it typically does.

It's fairly common for a good team to not play its best when it matters most, but it's unacceptable for it to happen time and time again. The Cowboys have not played their best when it matters most in recent history, and it has become unnerving to the fanbase.

When something happens three times in a row, it paves the way for a trend, and that's the territory that OSU baseball is treading toward.

It's a frustrating reality for Holliday and his staff, which otherwise has been one of the nation's best in the last decade. All they can do now is thank the seniors, learn from this season and then apply it to the next year. It's easier than ever for top programs to reload with the portal, so the Cowboys should have all the ability in the world to get back again next year — but a different result is desperately needed.

Ryan Breeden is a sports reporter for The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at rbreeden@stwnewspress.com.