By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The situation could be worse for Oklahoma. Its spot in the Big 12 tournament was secured last Sunday. It still has a path — an extremely narrow one — to the NCAA tournament.
That alone brought a sense of relief to L. Dale Mitchell Park on Wednesday.
“Since Oklahoma has never not qualified for it, I would say, yeah.” OU coach Pete Hughes said on Wednesday. “We’ve avoided that distinction.”
It’s a small amount of solace to a season that started a downward trend five weeks ago and has yet to level off, much less begin an ascension.
The last chance to do it in the regular season starts at 7 p.m. today at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City when OU (27-25, 7-14 Big 12) meet Oklahoma State (39-13, 16-5) in the opening game of the Bedlam series.
The rivalry will always be an enormous part of the series, but the baggage the Sooners and Cowboys carry into the three-game set, which moves to Tulsa’s ONEOK Field on Friday and Saturday, are polar opposites.
The Cowboys hold a one-game lead over TCU in the Big 12 standings. Just win two of three and the conference title is theirs.
OU doesn’t mind playing the spoiler role in its current circumstance.
“We don’t want them to win it. Anything we can do to keep that from happening, we’ll do. We’re gonna try to get a sweep,” OU third baseman Sheldon Neuse said.
Watching dogpiles at your expense isn’t easy. OU had to do it twice last season. Kansas State claimed the 2103 Big 12 title with a win over the Sooners in the second-to-last regular-season game.
Three weeks later, LSU punched its ticket to the College World Series with back-to-back wins over OU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
That memory has stuck with the players who were around last season.
“If we come in there and sweep, they can’t dogpile — even if they win the conference,” OU center fielder Craig Aikin said. “You can’t dogpile after a loss.”
But OU hasn’t done much to prevent teams from winning over the last six weeks. It hasn’t won conference series since taking two of three from Kansas at the end of March. The Sooners have gone 3-12 in their last five conference series.
The Cowboys haven’t lost a series since dropping two of three to the Bears on March 21-23. They carry a 10-game winning streak into today’s Bedlam opener.
Hughes admitted he will manage his team with an eye on next week’s Big 12 tournament. After all, OU has to win it to extend an NCAA tournament streak that extends back to 2008. His bullpen has been taxed to the point of exhaustion due to the lack of quality starts. He can’t burn through it in Bedlam with a tournament looming in just six days.
If the standings hold, it would mean a sixth Bedlam meeting this season in the tournament’s opening round.
“We already know each other so well,” Hughes said referring to the two non-conference meetings that included the 18-inning marathon OU won, 12-9, on April 13 in Stillwater that evened the non-conference portion of Bedlam at a game apiece. “It all comes down to who is going to walk the least amount of people and who is going to make the least amount of errors and who gets the most two-out hits.”
OU cannot salvage its regular season by winning the Bedlam series. The goal of it is set itself up for the NCAA tournament and it failed at the objective.
What it can do this weekend is finally build some confidence it has lacked since March and, perhaps, set itself up for a miracle run next week.
If that keeps its in-state rival celebrating at the Sooners’ expense, they’ll gladly take it.
“You throw out the season and new season begins here this week,” second baseman Hector Lorenzana said. “That’s how we’re taking it.”
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