By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As Hunter Haley’s seventh-inning liner down the right-field line bounced up against the wall, Oklahoma’s dugout made a collective three-foot jump Friday night against Cal State Bakersfield.
A burden the Sooners lugged for nearly a week was gone as Austin O’Brien trotted home from third base to give OU the lead.
The celebration after the eventual 4-2 victory of the Roadrunners at L. Dale Mitchell Park almost paled in comparison. The three-run seventh inning was like watching a bunch of six-year olds all receive their birthday wishes in unison.
“That big inning was finally a spark,” O’Brien said. “You hope it will carry us through the rest of the weekend.”
The win snapped the Sooners’ two-game losing streak and the three-run seventh inning snapped a run of six straight games where OU scored just eight runs combined and more than one run in an inning just once.
More importantly, it ended a procession of tense at-bats where every Sooner batter seemed to lug the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“We had been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” said second baseman Joshua Ake, who went 2 for 3 and drove in a run. “We know we have to relax and have some fun. That seventh inning really felt like we were doing that.”
Aside from the seventh-inning outburst, OU (21-10) remained in recent form. The pitching was stellar. They held an opponent to five runs or less for the ninth straight game.
Corey Copping didn’t factor into the decision, but the right-hander held the Roadrunners (11-17) to two runs on four hits over six innings.
OU’s bullpen was dominant — again. Kyle Hayes, Jeffrey Curran, Drew Krittenbrink and Ralph Garza Jr. combined to pitch three hitless innings.
Hayes (3-0) received the victory. Garza collected his sixth save.
It was only a seven-hit night for the Sooners, but three of them came in succession with one out in the seventh inning.
Mac James singled and scored on O’Brien’s triple to tie the game. Haley then drove in the go-ahead run with his double. He scored on Ake’s single to produce the final margin.
“We’d just been waiting for that inning so guys could get comfortable and feel good again,” OU coach Pete Hughes said. “I’d love to see it in the first (inning) one of these days because it’s so agonizing to have to wait until the seventh.”
Friday night was a rarity. It was just OU’s second win in nine tries when trailing after six innings.
The way Cal State Bakersfield pitcher Taylor Aikinhead was pitching through the first six didn’t paint a pretty picture for OU. He limited them to one run on three hits until the seventh inning. The left-hander took the tough-luck loss to drop to 4-4.
The teams will wrap up the series with a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m. today. The Sooners hope the energy that comes from one big inning can spill over. They left the ballpark feeling like a different team.
“After that one inning, you could see the energy in the dugout get up like it was at the beginning of the year,” Ake said. “It was good for us.”
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