OKLAHOMA CITY — Late-inning hits usually decide baseball games. Saturday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, it was the last out that was so difficult to secure.
For 2 1/2 innings Oklahoma and Kansas State traded big hits around like they were nothing. The difference in the Sooners’ 7-6 victory over Kansas State in 11 innings was that the Sooners had a pitcher who could get the last out.
Kyle Hayes was the fourth pitcher to trot out of OU’s bullpen and second since OU blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning. However, he struck out Mitch Meyer and Alex Bee with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th inning to nail down the victory.
“Running out there, I was a little nervous,” said Hayes, who notched his first save. “When I got on the mound I was fine. I trusted my stuff. I threw the ball hard and threw strikes.”
Hayes had reason to be nervous. The winner of Saturday’s game received a spot in today’s Big 12 championship. Going into the bottom of the ninth the Sooners (39-19) appeared to have it secured.
Garrett Carey clubbed a three-run triple in the fourth inning, sandwiched between sacrifice flies to give OU a 5-1 lead.
The Wildcats (41-17) have earned a reputation for battling back from deficits. They rallied from a four-run deficit to beat the Sooners back on May 17. That rally secured the league’s regular-season title for Kansas State.
When an RBI single from Tanner Witt, RBI double from Shane Conlon and a two-run single by Meyer tied it up in the ninth, the Sooners were not surprised.
“We’ve seen them. They are very, very poised,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “They have done that to everybody they have played and they can do it. Their dugout has a calmness because they know what kind of barrels they have in the lineup.”
The see-saw battle continued into the 10th inning. OU got the lead back when Max White doubled off the left-field wall and scored on Matt Oberste’s RBI single. The Wildcats answered with Ross Kivett’s RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.
“The ups and downs were crazy,” White said. “It was really motivating to see both teams fight, and two teams battling like that is unbelievable. We just had to keep fighting.”
The Sooners did in the 11th inning. Taylor Alspaugh laced a one-out double and scored on Craig Aikin’s single.
Ralph Garza Jr. took the mound for OU in the 10th inning. He gave up the game-tying run in the 10th and loaded the bases with one out in the 11th.
Hayes started warming up right after Garza entered and was watching everything unravel from beyond the right-field wall.
“At first, it was disappointing. Then it was exciting being out there and seeing both teams battle back and staying ready to pitch at the same time,” Hayes said.
Whatever he was thinking about in the bullpen worked. The Sooners will face Kansas, a 4-0 winner over TCU, at 1 p.m. today for the tournament title and the Big 12’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament.
It’s the second straight year OU has advanced this far. Last season it lost an 8-7 heartbreaker to Missouri. The Sooners haven’t forgotten the feeling.
Golloway brought up how in the last 12 months, his team watched three teams celebrate titles — Missouri in the 2012 Big 12 tournament, South Carolina in the 2012 Columbia Super Regional and the Wildcats, who secured the 2013 Big 12 regular-season crown at his team’s expense.
“We’ve come up short three times. Tomorrow gives us our first opportunity within one calendar year to not come up short. We’re not going to be able to handle coming up short for a fourth time,” he said. “I’m not making a prediction, but I’m telling you it’s all hands on board — just like today. God Lord willing, we’re gonna get her done tomorrow.”
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