Don’t count out the Pokes: Oklahoma State doesn’t crumble at East Lake

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ATLANTA – It’s no secret that Oklahoma State is no longer the dominant force that we’ve been accustomed to seeing the past couple of years in men’s college golf. But Wednesday at the East Lake Cup, the Cowboys showed that they shouldn’t be written off just yet.

After knocking off the nation’s No. 1 team in Wake Forest in Tuesday’s semifinals, Oklahoma State gave preseason No. 1 Texas everything it had in a 3-2 loss Wednesday in the championship match.

“They showed a lot of fight today,” Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton said. “It looked like the match was going to end early and those guys just kept extending, which is all you can do, and we almost turned that thing around and won.”

Junior standout Austin Eckroat took down Texas stud sophomore Cole Hammer in the anchor match and freshman Brian Stark led off with a 4-and-3 victory over Pierceson Coody, arguably the Longhorns’ second-best player. Between those matches, sophomore Aman Gupta and freshman Rayham Thomas nearly pulled off victories before losing on the 18th hole.

Thomas’ near-comeback against highly touted freshman Travis Vick was most impressive. Trailing 3 down after 14 holes, Thomas, who struggled mightily with the driver yips this summer, won the par-3 15th hole with par before making an incredible birdie at the difficult par-4 16th to claw back to 1 down. He then gave himself a 10-foot look at birdie on the par-5 finishing hole but missed.

While Bratton and his group wanted to get revenge on Texas, which upset them in last year’s NCAA semifinal, the Cowboys’ leader was pleased by his team’s ability to keep getting better.

“They handled themselves well,” said Bratton, whose team opened the year with a third-to-last finish at Pebble Beach but recently placed fourth at the Nike Collegiate. “Now, we have to improve our skills, so that we can get in that spot more often, but they certainly, with all the eyes on them, they did just fine. We knew as coaches that they had that in them, and we have that expectation for them, but it’s great for them to know and prove it to themselves.

“Again, we have to get better; it’s not like we’ve arrived, but they didn’t crumble.”

Gone are All-Americans Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland and Zach Bauchou, but Oklahoma State, ranked 57th by Golfstat, proved it still has some talent left in the tank.

“If people keep counting us out,” Bratton said, “then that’s good motivation for us.”