By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – On its way to its team hotel Wednesday night, Oklahoma’s team bus broke down just a few miles from campus. With a 9 a.m. opener in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship looming the following day, impatience and short tempers might have been in order.
Instead, the players and coaches waited patiently, joking until alternate transportation arrived.
“You realize, don’t sweat the little things,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “There are more important things in life going on around us.”
The Sooners’ fourth victory in four days was a team effort – outstanding defense, solid pitching, timely hitting – and it resulted in a championship dog pile Sunday. Fourth-seeded Oklahoma took command with a three-run first inning and put away sixth-seeded Kansas, 7-2, at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
A week that began with Monday’s deadly and tragic tornado that devastated nearby Moore – which is located between OKC and Norman – ended with OU winning its first Big 12 Championship since the 1997 team won the first one.
“We’ve finally won it again,” said Golloway, whose team was the preseason choice to win the regular-season title. “We’ve had a gorilla on our back. We still need to win a regular-season title.”
The tournament was pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday and the format altered to pool play. The Sooners (40-19) went 3-0 in Pool One and the Jayhawks (34-25) went 3-0 in Pool Two. Kansas hoped to win Sunday and capture the Big 12’s NCAA tournament automatic bid. Unfortunately, KU faced a team playing well and on a mission.
“This team is together and it fights,” senior Max White said. “We’ve been up and down the last four weeks. We’ve seen a lot of inspirational things the last few days. Personally, I was numb for a few days after the tornado. To know that maybe we’ve made people and Oklahoma fans happy is a great thing.”
Oklahoma jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The two-out rally started in unlikely fashion as White reached on catcher’s interference. A walk, run-scoring singles by Hector Lorenzana and Anthony Hermelyn and wild pitch delivered the runs.
Matt Oberste’s two-run homer to deep left gave Oklahoma a 5-1 lead in the third and his two-run single in the ninth provided the final margin.
“We’ve been together all year,” Oberste said. “We’ve got great defense, good pitching and good hitting. The last few weeks we’ve been struggling at the plate but we’ve been able to figure it out.”
The Sooners turned double plays in the second and the third. In the Kansas fifth, the Jayhawks had runners at first and third with no outs but could only score one run. Oberste ranged to his right to snare a grounder and throw out Connor McKay at the plate. Then with runners on second and third pitcher Jacob Evans snared a liner from KU’s Kevin Kuntz.
“Getting out of that jam meant a lot,” said Evans, who matched a career high in innings pitched.
“When we were down 5-2, our guy hit the line drive right back to the pitcher and I thought that play was the biggest play of the game,” said Kansas coach Ritch Price, whose team had seven hits and probably seven other hard outs. “It could have put us down five to four and then we still have a chance to win. Not only did he (Jacob Evans) pitch well but he had the defensive play of the game as well.”
Evans, a freshman, had struggled in his relief appearance against Kansas State Saturday, bounced back by throwing five solid innings. Kyle Hayes, who closed out the victory over the Wildcats, got the final five outs.
“Jacob did a great job of flushing Saturday’s game,” Golloway said. “He was ready to get back out on the stage and battle. We were forced to use Kyle against Kansas State, this time we used him because we wanted to. He’s pitching well and gives us another big arm.”
1B - Matt Oberste, Oklahoma
2B - Hector Lorenzana, Oklahoma
3B - Garrett Carey, Oklahoma
SS - Kevin Kuntz, Kansas
C - Anthony Hermelyn, Oklahoma
OF - Michael Suiter, Kansas
OF - Max White, Oklahoma
OF - Jacob Rice, West Virginia
DH - Connor McKay, Kansas
P - Jordan Piche', Kansas, RP
P - Jonathan Gray, Oklahoma, SP (Most Outstanding Player)
P - Trevor Seidenberger, TCU, RP