Former Frenship standout leads surging Cowboys against Red Raiders

It was 10 games into the Big 12 Conference season, and Oklahoma State was scuffling.

The Cowboys had dropped six of those 10 contests, had just lost a series at Kansas State and were blanked for the second straight league game in a 3-0 loss to Missouri to open a three-game series. Plus, the middle game of the series with the Tigers was slated for television, and a still fairly inexperienced Tyler Lyons was taking the hill for OSU.

But what seemed like every factor conspiring against the Cowboys became a turning point for their season, and Lyons, the sophomore left-hander and former Frenship standout, has led the charge. Beginning with a 6-2 win over Missouri that day, OSU has won 10 of its last 11 Big 12 games heading into this weekend’s set with Texas Tech at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.

Texas Tech baseball

• What: Tech at No. 8 Oklahoma State
• When: 6:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday
• Where: Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
• Records: Texas Tech 21-26, 6-15 in Big 12; Oklahoma State 35-13, 14-7
• Radio: KKAM 1340 AM

“I think that whole weekend in general got us going,” Lyons said. “We had a tough week at Kansas State and we had dug ourselves into a pretty big hole to begin Big 12, but that kind of turned it on for us. We’re winning as a team now and things are going all right.”

Things are going pretty well for Lyons, too. After spending his freshman season in a limited relief role, Lyons grabbed one of the three spots in the starting rotation at the beginning of the year and has not let it go, compiling an 8-2 record and 3.42 ERA. He leads the team with 79 innings pitched and three complete games – including the Missouri game in which he allowed just two runs on seven hits with no walks and six strikeouts – and is second behind Friday night starter Andrew Oliver in strikeouts with 67.

He is a main reason the Cowboys (35-13, 14-7 in Big 12) are ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation and have the third-ranked team ERA in the Big 12 at 3.83. But it’s also quite a leap for a pitcher who was used mostly in spot duty while learning the intricacies of college baseball.

“Going out as a freshman a lot of times … there are situations where you might not ever get in a comfort zone unless you get a ton of innings,” said OSU head coach Frank Anderson, a former Texas Tech assistant. “You might get one hitter or one inning at a time, and if you walk a guy or something you might be out of the game. We had to allow him to stay out there (this year) and get some confidence. We decided to go with him and live with him, and we knew he would have his ups and downs.”

Luckily for the Cowboys, there have been more ups than downs. Since a 3-0 loss to Baylor to open Big 12 Conference play on March 15, Lyons has won five of his past six conference starts, earning a no-decision against Texas on April 19.

As Lyons’ confidence has grown, so has that of the team overall. A loss this past Sunday to non-conference opponent Utah Valley State broke a 12-game winning streak by OSU.

“I think we’ve just found a groove,” Lyons said. “We’ve solidified our lineup a little bit and not had as many changes, and we’ve stepped up and played well and pitched well for the most part. I think we’re putting everything together at once.”

So is Lyons. Anderson credited some of his improvement to the fact that Lyons is focused on just one sport now, whereas at Frenship he was the starting quarterback in football. Lyons said a big part of it is just maturing as a player after he logged only 171/3 innings in 2007.

“Now that I’ve had two years and two falls – I’d never played in the fall in my life – I think that definitely helps,” Lyons said. “Each year I’ve gotten a lot more work in on baseball, and more of just being a pitcher, too, helps out. I’m not having to play in the field and hit all the time and that’s made a big difference.

“My freshman year the big thing I learned was just going through a bunch of tough times and getting hit and how to deal with it. It’s a lot easier this year than last year.”

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