|1959 National Champions|
|By Bill Platt
Oklahoma State has an NCAA Baseball Championship trophy.
It was won 51 years ago in 1959 by coach Toby Greene in his third trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and he won it with a team that was not expected to do much.
The preseason prospectus for 1959 read, "The baseball outlook for coach Toby Greene's 16th edition of Cowboy baseball is quite questionable. Despite the return of key members from last year's pitching staff, it's hard to consider the Pokes much of a threat with graduation, grades and the pros robbing the veteran OSU mentor of all but one of his starters."
Only left fielder Don Soergel (.313) was back, along with veteran hurlers Roy Peterson (6-2), Joel Horlen (6-3) and Dick Soergel (4-0). Pitching strength and depth were the only bright spot for the ballclub with the rotation of veterans Peterson, Horlen and Soergel.
The 1959 season opened with a southern swing that consisted of four non-conference games - two against Rice and two against Houston with Oklahoma State winning three-of-four.
The regular season consisted of 21 Big Eight Conference games which was normal for the 1950s. The conference series were three-game, round-robin affairs consisting of two seven-inning games on Friday and a single nine-inning game on Saturday. Teams were not allowed to start early, and there were not any makeup days allowed. The Cowboys won the conference title with a 17-3 record by battling off Iowa State and Missouri in the last two series.
Greene set his lineup quickly in 1959 which was a necessity with only four non-conference games.
The catching duties were handled by Ray Bond, a sophomore from Oklahoma City Capitol Hill, with Tim Smalley, a junior from Stillwater, serving as the backup.
Grayson Mersch, a sophomore from Jay, won the first base job in a three-way battle. Mersch was one of the first in a long line of great fielding first basemen at Oklahoma State and possessed a major-league glove.
A brother combination - Bruce and Bob Andrew - provided the defense up the middle. Bruce, a sophomore, secured second base early in the season with his fine defensive play and a .300-plus batting average, while Bob was the shortstop. Bob, who had played two years previously, returned from military service to move into the hole created by Jerry Adair, who had signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a junior. Bob gave OSU solid defense, a good bat and much-needed leadership in an infield that had four sophomores.
The third-base job wasn't decided until after the conclusion of spring football when Jim Dobson came out for the team. Dobson, a sophomore from Oklahoma City Capitol Hill, had an outstanding year, finishing second on the team in home runs and RBI and winning the Most Valuable Player Award at the College World Series.
The outfield had three veterans with seniors Tim Green and Connie McIlvoy and juniors Ben Bancroft and Don Soergel. McIlvoy and Soergel shared leftfield, batting .319 and .350, respectively. McIlvoy came off the intramural field while Soergel was a returner who also played backup at first base and was the most effective pinch hitter as well.
Bancroft handled the duties in centerfield and the San Antonio, Texas, junior handled them extremely well. Bancroft had been used very little as a third baseman the previous season but proved to have a good arm and led the team in home runs and RBI while hitting .314. Green, a senior from Asher, was the starter in right field and, at 5-9, possessed good speed, power and a strong arm while hitting .279 and finishing third in home runs and RBI.
But the focal point of this team would be the pitching staff that returned three starters and didn't have much need for relievers. Peterson, a senior from Tulsa Rogers, finished 9-2 with a 1.42 ERA to lead the staff, while Horlen, a senior from San Antonio, went 9-1 with a 2.23 ERA. The youngest member of the veterans was Dick Soergel, who was only a junior and finished 8-1 with a 2.10 ERA. Horlen went on to a successful career in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics, while Soergel will be remembered as one of the last all-sport athletes. He was a starter at quarterback in football, a starter at forward in basketball and a starting pitcher in baseball for three straight seasons. This was when student-athletes were not eligible until their sophomore season, and Soergel won nine varsity letters.
The 1959 staff finished with 229 1/3 innings, including 20 complete games, and walked only 70 while striking out 206. Toby Bensinger, a senior lefthander from Midwest City, was the most used reliever and had only eight innings during the regular season. He had an additional six and one-third innings in the College World Series, including starting the championship game.
The 1959 District V Championship was a two-out-of-three affair with the winner going directly to the College World Series. It was the Big Eight champion Cowboys against the Missouri Valley champion Bradley Braves on the Bradley campus in Peoria, Ill. OSU won the doubleheader on Friday by scores of 7-6 and 6-2 to sweep the series and head to Omaha. Soergel and Horlen were winning pitchers, and Dobson hit a tape-measure home run in each victory.
OSU opened the 1959 tournament with a 10-2 victory over Western Michigan as Horlen pitched a five-hitter. McIlvoy, Bancroft, Mersch and Bond each picked up a pair of hits, and Mersch and Bond each had three RBI.
O-State had to rally for three runs in the seventh in its next game against Penn State and, after an insurance run in the eighth, won 8-6. Peterson worked the first seven before Bensinger came on in relief to pick up the save with two perfect innings. Bond and Peterson each had three hits as the Cowboys pounded out 11 hits as a team.
In their next game, the Cowboys found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-3 score as Arizona picked up three runs in the fifth en route to the victory. Soergel was the loser, and it was his first career loss in 12 decisions.
Finding themselves in the loser's bracket, the Cowboys eliminated Penn State, 4-3, as Horlen went the distance for his second win of the tournament. O-State found itself down 3-2 but rallied for two runs in the ninth to salvage the win.
A Fresno State victory over Arizona that night left three teams with one loss each. Arizona won the coin toss and became the odd man out as Oklahoma State and Fresno State met for the chance to play the Wildcats for the national championship.
It was back to Peterson against the Bulldogs, and the big right-hander responded with a four-hit shutout, 4-0. Dobson and Mersch were the offensive heroes with three and two hits, respectively. Dobson had a home run and a double while Mersch had an RBI double.
The Cowboys had advanced to the championship game, but Greene was faced with a pitching problem. Because of the extra game, Peterson had pitched the day before and could only be used for two or three outs if needed. Horlen had only one day's rest since going the distance against Penn State, but was also ready for relief. And Soergel had just two days' rest since working seven and one-third innings against Arizona.
Greene elected to go with Bensinger even
though the lefthander had never started a game for the Cowboys and
had only worked 10 2/3 innings the entire season. Bensinger was
supposed to go as far as he could and would then be followed by
Soergel with Horlen and Peterson if necessary. Bensinger worked
three and two-thirds innings before Soergel came on to finish the
final five and one-third innings, including three shutout innings to
close out the game, after OSU had taken the lead in the seventh.