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Notebook: Josh Holliday says Benge's pitching 'starting to return'; Big 12 depth is 'poorly portrayed'

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A day after hitting two doubles against Kansas State as OSU’s right fielder and third batter in the lineup, Carson Benge started at the mound and threw four strikeouts.

“That’s a lot,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said at Tuesday's press conference. “It’s a lot to be the three-hole hitter on a college baseball team. It’s a lot to be a starting pitcher. And it’s a whole lot to do both.”

After missing last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Benge didn’t pitch in a game until March 4, and he’s only pitched in nine games. But he’s appeared elsewhere in 48 of the Cowboys’ 50 games.

The offense has been there all season. Benge is fourth on the team in batting average (.348) and second in doubles (16). But now the redshirt freshman’s pitching is gaining steam.

In his first seven appearances at the mound, Benge averaged three innings an outing and his ERA was above 6. In his last two appearances, he has lasted at least five innings, while only giving up seven hits. Benge’s ERA has dropped to 5.23.

Holliday said he thought Benge’s last two starts – against Oral Roberts and KSU – were both good and that Benge is a guy who is getting back to normal and could make an impact in the postseason.

“I think what he’s doing has been very impressive, and I’m starting to see his pitching legs return underneath him,” Holliday said. “His skill and feel for pitching is starting to return.”

Schubart’s gonna Schubart

Nolan Schubart hit three home runs – and two grand slams – against East Tennessee State on May 7. How’d he celebrate?

“He’s here two hours early the next day, still trying to perfect his swing,” second baseman Roc Riggio said. “So, he doesn’t get complacent.”

Across 33 games from March 10 to May 6, Schubart hit just four home runs. But in the past four games, Schubart hit five home runs and sits second on the team with 14 homers.

Schubart also sits second in hits (61) and first in RBI (60) – as a 19-year-old freshman.

“He’s only getting better,” Riggio said. “When he’s a junior here, he’ll be one of the best baseball players in the country, hands down, not even close.”

On Sunday, Schubart hit a 461-foot home run that went over the batter’s eye in center field. Riggio said it’s not surprising. They’ve seen Schubart do that since his first batting practice.

“We expect nothing less from him,” Riggio said. “… I’m like, ‘Oh, Shubart’s gonna Schubart.’”

Is the Big 12 underrated?  

Every week, Holliday sits down for 20 minutes and votes on the coaches poll, with his criteria being, “Who would be the toughest three-game series you could possibly find?”

Holliday said after the top few teams, everyone else runs together. But a look at the rankings reveals only two Big 12 teams. His Cowboys sit 22nd in the coaches poll, and West Virginia sits seventh. The Southeastern Conference owns half of the spots in the top 10.

“Like always, underappreciated, poorly portrayed,” Holliday said of the conference’s depth. “You can lose a series in this league, and everybody acts like it’s the end of the world, (but) you get swept in other leagues and people say it’s a tough weekend.”

Holliday said when he converses with umpires who call games in both the SEC and Big 12, they say the conferences are similar.

“The perception and the difference in each league, I think it’s incredibly minimal,” Holliday said. “There’s a ton of parity. There’s a ton of good teams. I think the gap between the three or four most elite teams and the rest of the teams is a smaller line than maybe it’s ever been before.”

Between a shortened MLB Draft, the transfer portal and extra years of eligibility because of COVID, Holliday said rosters are older and talent is more well-distributed. Because of that, he said the gap between teams in the Big 12 and other conferences isn’t as big as people think.

“I think there’s a ton of parity, a lot of good teams, and the Big 12 teams fit right in there, side by side with all the other teams in that discussion,” Holliday said.