CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The position Oklahoma finds itself in is a familiar one. Throughout the second half of the season it consistently battled out of difficult positions. The Sooners were knocked into another dire spot on Saturday, falling 5-4 to Appalachian State in their opening game of the NCAA baseball tournament’s Charlottesville Regional.
Digesting the self-inflicted nature of the loss at Davenport Field was hard. Two of the Mountaineers’ runs were unearned and OU committed four errors. It wasn’t a winning blueprint.
“There were several plays that could have made a difference,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said.
OU (38-23) had to make them if it was going to escape with a victory on a night it mostly swung at air.
Appalachian State pitcher Ryan Arrowood (11-0) had a no-hitter going through 6 1/3 innings and didn’t give up a run until the eighth inning. The Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year struck out nine. The Sooners couldn’t do much of anything until Arrowood tired late in the game.
“From the start of the game, everything felt like it was working spot on,” Arrowood said. “I was locating my fastball from the get-go, and (my) curveball was definitely on today.”
The Sooners only had two hits. Caleb Busyhead broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single in the seventh inning. Evan Mistich finally got OU on the scoreboard with an RBI single in the eighth.
“He (Arrowood) was throwing a good mix of pitches and keeping us off balance. Our approach wasn’t really that great,” Bushyhead said.
The Sooners didn’t really work the count until the latter half of the game. If they could have gotten into the Mountaineers’ bullpen an inning earlier, there might have been a different outcome.
Nathan Hyatt entered with two outs in the eighth inning to try to get the save. He got that last out in the eighth, but then crumbled in the ninth. He walked Bushyhead and Matt Oberste on eight pitches and then hit Garrett Carey on a 1-0 pitch.
Appalachian State’s bullpen problems didn’t end there. Ryne Frankoff balked in Bushyhead and then threw a wild pitch to bring in Oberste. Carey scored on a Chase Simpson groundout to second base. OU even managed to get the game-tying run to second base when Max White flew out to right field to end the game.
The rally was nice, but the obstacle OU had to overcome was too vast.
Jordan John pitched his typical game for the Sooners. He went eight innings, giving up four runs (two earned) and struck out seven. What wasn’t typical was that unearned runs came on errors by him.
The first came in the third inning. Appalachian State already had a run in when John (8-7) fielded a dribbler from Max Callaway that should have ended the inning. However, John’s throw to first was wild, and it allowed Noah Holmes to score.
“I just rushed the throw,” John said.
The Sooners’ deficit grew to three runs in the eighth inning. That run was set in motion when John threw wild in an attempt to pick off Tyler Zupcic at first base. He moved to third on a ground out and scored on a sacrifice fly.
OU’s plan was to keep the game close. It believed applying pressure to the Mountaineers would cause them to buckle at some point. After all, they hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. The way the Sooners scored three runs in the ninth inning without a hit showed the strategy had merit.
The two runs Appalachian State pushed across in the ninth were the difference. An RBI double by Trey Holmes and a sacrifice fly by Noah Holmes provided a critical cushion.
The Mountaineers (40-16) will face top-seeded Virginia (39-17-1) at 2 p.m. today in the winners’ bracket contest. The loser of that game will return to Davenport Field to face the winner of the OU-Army game at 6 p.m.
The Sooners, who were able to get in the tournament on the strength of their pitching, believe they possess the arms to advance.
“It hurts losing tonight, but we are going to come back out optimistic tomorrow, knowing that we have a chance to win this thing,” Bushyhead said.
They might have sufficient pitching, but Saturday showed defense and hitting are also part of the equation.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org