Jon Littell and Carson Teel have been friends and teammates for a long time, and Saturday they came up clutch for the Oklahoma State baseball team.
The pair of Stillwater High graduates were vital in helping OSU end a four-game losing skid at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium. They earned the win on the mound and came through with the crucial hit in the Cowboys’ 4-2 victory.
“When we’re struggling, they bleed a little bit,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said of the two hometown players. “That hurts. Their resolve to show up and play well when it mattered the most today was a great sign of leadership and the investment they have in Oklahoma State.”
As far as the game itself, the Cowboys coach enjoyed the pitcher’s duel, but thought his hurler was quite impressive.
“It was a great game,” Holliday said. “I thought both of the starting pitchers were outstanding. The kid from Missouri State is a real major league prospect. He’s got great size and great arm strength. He had a very deep, sharp breaking ball that was tough to handle. I thought our kid was even better, though.
“I thought Carson went out and pitched about as good of a game as you can pitch against a very fine team. He pitched with skill, he pitched with emotion and he pitched control and poise. He was just a joy to watch. He’s special. He’s just a real special performer. He provided our team with tremendous leadership when we needed it most.”
Teel was masterful in his first start of the season. He threw seven innings in what was a pitcher’s duel for six-and-a-half innings.
The OSU redshirt junior struck out eight and allowed only three hits and one walk, as he improved his record to 3-0.
“I was excited,” Teel said. “I always love starting here. This is a great place to play. When the fans come out, this place is awesome. I was really excited to help get our team back on track.”
Teel, who’s come out of the bullpen this season – but has thrown 7 1/3 innings out of the pen, found himself in slight trouble on multiple occasions Saturday, despite shutting the side down in order four times.
In the sixth inning, he gave up a leadoff single. The runner advanced to third on a passed ball and sacrifice bunt with one out. Teel ended the inning with a strike out and a fly ball to left field.
An inning later, Teel allowed a one-out single and hit the next batter to put two on base. Once again, he shut down the Bears (11-6) with a pair of strikeouts.
“Whenever I get a couple guys on, I just relate it back to the bullpen mentality,” Teel said. “I just keep it there. If not, I have to manage the damage if they get a couple across. I guess I’m used to it in a weird way, but it was a lot of fun for me.”
In the bottom half of the seventh, Teel’s high school and college teammate came up clutch at the plate. After a Matt Kroon walk, Colin Simpson single and Christian Funk walk to load the bases, Littell came up to the plate without a hit on the day.
The OSU senior and Stillwater High product drove a pitch deep in the left-center field gap. Kroon and Simpson scored on the double, ending the scoreless tie.
Two batters later, Jake Taylor hit an RBI single to right field, scoring Funk. Taylor later scored on a wild pitch, after Littell was thrown out at home plate on Taylor’s single.
The damage was done as the Cowboys (9-8) scored all four of their runs in the half inning.
“Every guy in there wanted to be that guy,” Littell said. “I was fortunate enough to be up at the right time and put a nice swing on it. Coach has been telling me to just stick with it. He left a curveball up the at-bat before and I didn’t handle it. I got it again and was able to put a good swing on it. It felt great to get us going.”
It was an extra special day for Littell as he was able to watch his dad coach the OSU women’s basketball team to an NCAA Tournament win over Syracuse. The Cowgirls won 84-57, earning their first NCAA Tournament win since 2014.
“It’s awesome,” Littell said. “We were pulling for him. We had the game on as much as we could leading up to our game. They got a good one and hopefully they can keep it up.”
OSU’s Brady Basso replaced Teel to start the eighth inning and allowed one run in the eighth and ninth innings. Joe Lienhard came out of the bullpen in the ninth with the bases loaded.
Lienhard gave up a swinging bunt single that scored the ninth inning run. One batter later, he snagged a line drive back up the middle, turned around and fired to shortstop Matt Kroon at second base for the double-play force out, ending the contest.
“I saw it coming at me and my reflexes kind of took over,” Lienhard said. “I caught it and right away, I had an idea that someone was going to be off. I checked at third and he wasn’t too far off. Then I checked at second and he just was off and Kroon was there at the bag. I just gave him a little throw and from there, my mind went crazy. It’s exciting to win with these guys.”
Holliday was also impressed by the play, considering who was on deck for the Bears.
“Karma shifted out direction with the line drive,” Holliday said. “Not only did Joe do a great job to snag it, but then to find the correct base, to throw the ball was really huge, especially considering who was on deck for them. (Jeremy) Eierman is a unanimous preseason All-American player and a very talented player who you wouldn’t want up in a 4-2 game.”
Saturday’s win ended a four-game losing streak for the Cowboys. Their last win came March 9 when they opened the weekend series against Eastern Michigan with an 8-3 victory.
“It was a lot of fun,” Teel said. “They had a good arm going for them. It’s always fun to be in pitcher’s duels, because you see who prevails. My teammates made great plays behind me and we executed pitchers.”
OSU closes out the weekend with a home contest against Seton Hall, who beat the Cowboys 10-7 on Friday. The first pitch is scheduled for noon.
“I was excited. I always love starting here. This is a great place to play. When the fans come out, this place is awesome. I was really excited to help get our team back on track.”