By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Moods were light as Oklahoma boarded a bus for Manhattan, Kan., Thursday afternoon. What they’ll be like by Sunday depends on what transpires over the next three games.
The Sooners’ season hinges on the outcome.
“If we go up there and win three games, we’re Big 12 champs. We’ll be having a big party in Manhattan,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “On the other side, if we go up there and don’t play well and get swept, we better come back and win the Big 12 tournament. You’ve got the complete opposite spectrums based on what happens this weekend. It couldn’t be more different. Who would have ever thought one weekend could mean so much?”
Few would have back in April. Back then OU appeared to be cruising toward its first Big 12 Conference championship and there was legitimate talk of being a regional host in the NCAA tournament.
But that was before the Sooners dropped seven of their last nine games. The 35-17 overall record and 12-9 mark in the Big 12 looks decent on paper, but most believe it’s not even enough to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
It’s why the Kansas State series will either be boom or bust. Win the series and the perception of the Sooners changes.
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we still have a chance to do it,” OU first baseman Matt Oberste said. “We just need to win the series to get in the NCAA tournament. If we get a sweep and win the Big 12, that would be extra.”
Standing between the Sooners and the extra credit is the Big 12’s hottest team — Kansas State (37-15, 14-7). Just one victory gives the Wildcats their first Big 12 title. The first opportunity comes at 6:30 p.m. today at Tointon Family Stadium. OU will send Jonathan Gray (8-2, 1.43 ERA) to the mound against Kansas State’s Levi MaVorhis (5-0, 2.91 ERA).
Ordinarily, having Gray on the mound has been a very comfortable feeling. Gray knows the importance this one game could have on the rest of the season.
“My strategy stays the same. I want to go up there and shut them down in the first game,” Gray said. “Hopefully, that confidence carries over to the second game and the third game if we can beat them up pretty good.”
At times, Gray has had that impact on teams. The loss OU suffered last Friday against Oklahoma State was its first in the opening game of a Big 12 series this season.
Tonight will show if it was aberration or not.
OU will send Jake Fisher (1-2, 2.15 ERA) to the mound Saturday and Dillon Overton (8-2, 2.87 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Sunday’s finale.
OU’s hope is that the that finale is for the Big 12 championship.
“Knowing we have to win there and sweep them to win the conference, we know it’s gonna be tough, but we also know it’s gonna be a hectic, fun weekend,” Overton said. “We know what we have to do and we have to try to do it.”
The Sooners have one last chance to halt the slide that’s occurred over the last three weeks. “I feel like there’s nowhere to go but up from here,” Fisher said. “This is the worst part of the season. I feel like we’re gonna come back and play solid.”
The Sooners are just about out of chances to prove they can come back.
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