Game Report: Hansen Shows His Potential
SURPRISE, Ariz. — There were power arms, power bats and a power struggle between coaches Saturday afternoon at Surprise Stadium when the Oklahoma Sooners faced off with the Oregon State Beavers. The Sooners took a 9-6 victory in the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge behind five impressive innings from sophomore flamethrower Alec Hansen.
Oregon State took an early lead, but Oklahoma quickly answered with four runs in the first two innings. After getting out of a jam in the top of the fifth inning, the Sooners added two runs in the bottom half when Craig Aiken hit an RBI triple and scored on a sacrifice fly. A two-run triple from Kolbey Carpenter and an RBI groundout made it 9-2 in the sixth inning.
Oregon State battled back, getting a Gabe Clark homer and sac fly to, but with the go-ahead run at the plate Oklahoma’s Sheldon Neuse came in from his shortstop spot to slam the door. Taking over in a bases loaded spot, Neuse froze pinch hitter Tyler Mildenberg with a 94 mph fastball right at the knees on the outside black to end the eighth inning. He then pitched a quick ninth to pick up his first save.
Sophomore Alec Hansen only pitched 11.1 innings last season, but he’s going to be a big part of Oklahoma’s future. The 6-foot-7 righthander has electric stuff with a fastball that is encroaching triple digits, but he’s got to harness it.
He produced the strongest outing of his career Saturday afternoon by doing just that. Strikeouts accounted for 12 of the 15 outs Hansen recorded against Oregon State. He sat at 94-96 mph and bumped up to 98 on occasion, touching 99 at least once. But throwing hard only gets you so far. Hansen also did a good job of mixing his slider, which he was throwing at 86-87 with solid break. He also mixed in some 83-86 mph changeups and a couple of curveballs at 75.
Hansen ran into some trouble in the first inning when the first three Beavers reached, but he struck out the side to hold Oregon State to just one run in the frame.
“I’ve been in that position a lot of times, so I knew I just had to relax and get out of it,” Hansen said. “I knew the rest of the game wasn’t going to go that way. I knew I had my team behind me and they were going to put up some runs.”
With Hansen’s occasional erratic command, one of his keys is staying relaxed just as he did in the initial inning. When he gets jacked up and his adrenaline gets pulsating through his body, Hansen can lose feel for his pitches, but the fact that he was able to recognize what he needed to do and executed his pitches to limit the damage is a great sign for the Loveland, Colo. native.
He made some really big pitches in a couple of other key spots, including in his fifth and final inning. After walking a pair of Beavers, the bullpen started getting active with one out, but it wasn’t needed. Hansen’s fastball was still pumping in there at 93-96 mph. However, it was his slider that he turned to for his final three outs.
After attacking K.J. Harrison with fastballs early in the count, something he hadn’t done Harrison’s first two at bats, he finished him off with a nasty slider that started on the plate and disappeared out of the zone to strike out the stud freshman. Gabe Clark hit a home run later in the game, but he had nothing for Hansen, waving at a low-and-away slider for the hat trick in the first five innings. Elliott Cary at least worked a full count before whiffing at an 86 mph slider to end the inning.
The game changed early.
In the first inning, Oregon State struck quick. Jeff Hendrix doubled. Trever Morrison followed with a single. A wild pitch and a walk scored a run and put two men on with no outs. But that’s when Hansen locked in. He struck out Billy King swinging. Gabe Clark just looked at strike three. Another walk loaded the bases, but then Hansen needed just three pitches to sit down Caleb Hamilton. While it was great to get an early 1-0 lead, the Beavers blew an opportunity to put a crooked number on the board.
The big strikeout to end the inning pumped up the Oklahoma bench and the bats responded. With a runner on second and one out, Sheldon Neuse did a great job of staying on an outside fastball and driving it deep to right field for an RBI triple.
It was the first of four triples to right field for Oklahoma in the game. The Sooners focused on going with pitches from Oregon State lefty starter Luke Heimlich, who tried to live on the outer half. The second of those triples came on the very next pitch.
Anthony Hermelyn hit a fly down the right field foul line. Oregon State right fielder Elliott Cary had a beat on the ball and looked like he would likely make a running catch, but instead, he stumbled over his own feet and fell down about eight feet from where the ball hit the grass and squirted to the wall. An RBI groundout made the score 3-1. Oklahoma never looked back with Hansen on the mound.
The lead allowed the big sophomore to attack more. Head coach Pete Hughes said getting in front allows Hansen to relax and not have to think as much, which is when he pitches his best.
Best Pitch: Alec Hansen ran his fastball up to 99 miles per hour. I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
Best Defensive Play: While it won’t atone for the stumble he had in the first inning, Oregon State freshman Elliott Cary showed great range in the second inning. On a 2-2 pitch, Joshua Ake hit a pop fly down the right field line. Cary covered a ton of ground to get to foul territory and make a sliding grab to get the out.
Best Drama: Gabe Clark ripped a three-run homer just inside the left field foul pole to make the score, 9-5. With eight outs remaining, Oregon State had some life. A pair of solid singles against reliever Blake Rogers and Oklahoma was forced to make a pitching change.
Lefty Jacob Evans came running in from the bullpen, toed the rubber and started warming up. From the sprint in from the outfield to his first couple of warmup pitches, Evans had worked up a sweat. With no rosin bag on the mound, Evans called to Sooners head coach Pete Hughes, who was standing beside the home plate umpire in foul territory. Hughes relayed the message to the dugout and a bag was brought out. Hughes walked the bag out, dropped it on the mound and walked back toward the dugout.
Soon after, Oregon State head coach Pat Casey strolled up to the home plate umpire and had a quick chat that sent the umpire back over to the first base dugout where it was explained to Hughes that Evans would have to be taken out of the game because Hughes had crossed into fair territory for a second time in the inning, necessitating a pitching change.
Oklahoma had to rush to get another pitcher, Ralph Garza Jr., warmed up in the bullpen. And Hughes was not happy about the umpire’s decision. He vehemently argued the decision with the umpiring crew and eventually was tossed from the game. He then took a few steps toward the Oregon State side and had some choice words for Casey.
With the Oklahoma dugout still chirping after Hughes left the field, Casey popped out of the dugout and paced toward the other side. He was intercepted by an umpire, but that didn’t stop Casey from telling the Sooners his thoughts anyways.
It proved not to matter because Garza struck out pinch hitter Michael Howard to end the inning and Oklahoma was able to close out the 9-6 victory when Sheldon Neuse took over on the mound and got the final four outs. After the game, the teams did shake hands, but don’t be expecting Hughes and Casey to be on each other’s Christmas card lists.
In Their Words
Oklahoma right-handed starting pitcher Alec Hansen talks about his 12-strikeout performance in a win over Oregon State. Hansen discusses getting out of an early jam and what he has to do to be successful.
Oregon State catcher K.J. Harrison talks about his fast start for the Beavers and what his approach has been at the plate. Harrison also discusses facing off with Oklahoma flamethrower Alec Hansen:
- Trever Morrison: 4-for-4, 2 R, 2B, BB
- Gabe Clark: 1-for-4, R, HR, 4 RBI
- K.J. Harrison: 1-for-3, R, 2B, RBI, 2 BB
- Sam Tweedt: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 3 K
- Sheldon Neuse: 2-for-4, R, 3B, RBI; 1.1 IP, H, 0 R, 2 K, Save
- Anthony Hermelyn: 2-for-3, 2 R, 3B, RBI, BB
- Craig Aiken: 1-for-2, 2 R, 3B, RBI, 2 BB
- Alec Hansen: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, Win
– The Sooners move back above .500 for the season. For them to be good this year, Alec Hansen is going to have to live up to his potential. He’s a key piece in their rotation. He showed he is capable against Oregon State. Now, can he show some consistency in his next outing?
– Oregon State has a ton of talent, but that talent is really young. The Beavers’ youngins’ in the lineup have to do a better job of putting the ball in play, even if it is against a guy like Alec Hansen throwing. They struck out 17 times against Oklahoma and are averaging eight strikeouts in their first seven games.