OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – For six pitches, Johnathan Gray looked anything like an ace. The 115 pitches that followed certified his place as one of the top pitchers in college baseball.
The junior right hander threw a three-hit shutout and equaled his career high with 12 strikeouts 12 as fourth-seeded Oklahoma defeated No. 5 seed Baylor, 2-0, Thursday in the first game of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship. The game's first pitch was delayed three and a half hours by rain.
Oklahoma (37-19) will play Texas Tech at 9 a.m. Friday while Baylor will take on top-seeded Kansas State at 12:30 p.m. Friday in the second day of Pool One play.
Gray walked Baylor (27-26) leadoff hitter Lawton Langford and then went 2-0 to Nathan Orf. Gray came back to strike out Orf and then retired the next two hitters to strand Langord at third (he moved up on Gray's errant throw on a pickoff attempt and a ground out).
"(Catcher Anthony) Hermelyn came out to talk to me, and he told me that everything was fine and that we would find the zone and get better as the game goes on," Gray said of the first-inning mound visit. "I kind of worried about it early, but I threw to contact and my defense was behind me with great plays. Everything rolled from there."
The Bears twice had two-out threats in the middle innings. In the fourth, Baylor had runners at first and second but Grayson Porter was retired on fly out. Gray retired Adam Toth on a fly to center to squash a first-and-third scoring chance.
"(Gray) got in a good flow and just pitched." Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "He can just pitch. He reminds me of (Roger) Clemens because of his three-pitch command and his command of the game. He is really good. It'll be interesting to see which one of those two guys goes first between him or the guy from Stanford (Mark Appel)."
It was Gray's second complete-game shutout of the season.
Oklahoma, which returned to its hotel to wait during the rain delay, was aggressive, putting runners in motion in the first three innings. The Sooners took a 1-0 lead when leadoff hitter Craig Akin scored from first on Jack Mayfield's hit-and-run double into the left field corner.
In the third, Hector Lorenzana's hit and run single scored Max White, the first of three Sooners will consecutive hits to start the frame. Lorenzana, however, was caught stealing which kept Oklahoma from having a break-it-open inning.
With the Championship format pushed back one day and changed to pool play, teams will play three games in three days. That puts a premium on pitching. Despite taking the loss, Baylor starter Dillon Newman allowed six hits in eight innings. His dogged outing helped save the Bears' bullpen.
"It's the same guy I saw coming out of high school." Smith said of Newman. "He threw pitches for strikes, he doesn't throw his curve ball anymore, and his strength is through the ball game. He's an 88 to 90 guy, and he was that today through the whole ballgame. He's a pitcher."
On Thursday, so was Gray.