OKLAHOMA CITY, — It’s been 16 years since Oklahoma won the Big 12 tournament. It’s closer now than its ever been to ending the streak. The Sooners rolled through Baylor, 7-2, on Saturday at Bricktown Ballpark to advance to the tournament’s title game for the first time since the inaugural event in 1997.
Hard to believe just two weeks ago, OU was considered a bubble team for next week’s NCAA Tournament. Now, it’s safely in the NCAA Tournament, and a different aura surrounds the Sooners.
“We knew if we were able to get the pieces all together, we would have something special,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “We’re playing good baseball right now.”
Baylor (44-14) has been the Big 12’s best team. It won the regular-season title by four games. But after Saturday’s loss, they went 0 for 5 against the Sooners this season.
“I like most of their coaches, but I really like their team,” Baylor coach Steve Smith with a not-so-subtle dig at Golloway. “I think they play hard and they pitch the heck out of it. Somebody’s going to have to deal with that in a regional, and that’s going to be interesting.”
Pitching is what OU’s ridden in the tournament. It managed to reach Saturday’s semifinals despite scoring a combined four runs in wins over Oklahoma State on Wednesday and the Bears on Thursday.
Jonathan Gray made it three straight dominant pitching performances. The right-hander scattered six hits over 7 2/3 innings. He also struck out six. Gray improved to 8-4 with the victory. More importantly, the Sooners have won the last six times he’s taken the mound.
Golloway always says the key to Gray’s success is giving him a lead to protect. The Sooners (38-21) erupted for three runs in the top of the second inning, and Gray settled in from there.
“I didn’t start off too hot but whenever you have an offense like that behind you, it really does give you some confidence and help you pitch,” Gray said.
OU only had seven hits on Saturday, but made them count with placement and distance. Back-to-back doubles by Jack Mayfield and Caleb Bushyhead got the Sooners on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning. The distance became a factor when Matt Oberste belted a two-run home run to give OU a 3-0 lead.
Oberste hit two homers on the day. Both completely left the stadium. The solo shot he bashed in the fourth inning rattled around the third story of the parking garage that sits beyond the left-field fence.
“My teammates told me it landed somewhere in the garage, but I didn’t stand around and watch it,” Oberste said.
Baylor was still steamed over the way Oberste admired the second-inning homer. He thought he would probably get beaned when came to the plate in the fourth inning. He didn’t, but he still had words with Baylor catcher Josh Ludy when he touched home. OU’s bench wasn’t happy about that and relief pitch Drew Harrison was ejected.
The animosity between the teams wasn’t hidden very well. The teams chirped at each other during Thursday’s game. Smith admitted that jawing didn’t serve his team well.
“Those guys were very ready to play,” Smith said. “They were offended by some of the stuff they heard out of our dugout on Thursday. They let us know about it.”
OU’s players wouldn’t comment on the friction between the teams.
“We’re just playing baseball,” OU outfielder Max White said. “We’re very comfortable where we’re at. We’re just motivated.”
The game settled down from there. Ludy blasted a solo homer — his fourth of the tournament — to the Bears on the scoreboard in the fourth inning. OU responded with three more runs in the fifth inning. White came through with a two-run double and Evan Mistich drove White in with a single.
Baylor, which had to advance through the losers’ bracket, fought an uphill battle in the pitching department. Joey Hainfurther (2-1) took the loss. He gave up both the homers to Oberste and lasted just 3 1/3 innings. The fifth-inning damage came against Ryan Smith.
The Sooners will face Missouri (31-26) in the championship game at 1 p.m. today. The Tigers rolled over Kansas, 12-2, to advance. Like OU, Missouri is undefeated in the tournament.
“We’ve got one more game in this tournament. Our guys know what’s at stake,” Golloway said.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org