Tom Belza swore he didn’t do anything differently at the plate in Oklahoma State’s 10-6 victory over Alabama in Friday afternoon’s opening game of the NCAA Clemson Regional. But the results were drastically different.
Belza, who hit only two home runs in Oklahoma State’s first 54 games this season, hit three consecutive homers Friday, beginning with a grand slam in the first inning. “I was just doing what I always do – seeing the ball then hitting it,” said the Cowboys shortstop. “It was an accident.”
The third-seeded Cowboys (33-22), who failed to qualify for the eight-team Big 12 Conference tournament, advanced to play Friday night’s Clemson-Tennessee Tech winner on Saturday. The Tide (37-20) will play the loser in the double-elimination tournament.
Oklahoma State pulled out an 8-0 lead in the third. Alabama closed scored five in their half of the third, but got no closer. Oklahoma State left-hander Tyler Lyons (7-5) gave up six runs on 10 hits. Randy McCurry pitched the final 3 1/3 innings for his 10th save. The Cowboys knocked out Alabama ace Austin Hyatt (8-3) in the third. Hyatt allowed eight runs in 2 2/3 innings.
After Belza’s third homer in the fifth, a wind-aided hit that barely carried over the wall down the left-field line, Alabama coach Jim Wells had seen enough. Belza was walked – almost intentionally – in his final two trips to the plate. Belza entered the game with a .336 average, but he hadn’t been the Cowboys’ most feared hitter.
“He certainly got our attention,” Wells said. “He became the most dangerous man in town.”
Alabama slugger Kent Matthes, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year with 28 homers, was 0-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. Doug Kroll also homered for the Cowboys. The Tide, who hit 107 homers during the season, didn’t have a home run.