By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Any time Oklahoma and Texas hook up, there doesn’t have to be anything on the line for the game to mean something. Whether it’s in the college ranks or high school all-stars teams, that way of thinking remains true.
So when Team Oklahoma and Team Texas faced off Thursday in the final game of the Heartland Classic round robin, it didn’t need any more incentive to make it big. But because the two teams were playing for the top-seed in the playoff bracket, it put a little more emphasis on the matchup.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, it was Texas who raised its game to match the stakes. Texas came away with a 6-3 victory at Norman North High.
“We played well,” Texas catcher Bryndan Arredondo said. “We came out early and got some runs. We kind of coasted a little bit, kind of got on our heels. We came out with the win. That’s all that matters.”
The win gives Texas (5-1) a bye in the first round of the single-elimination tournament, which starts today. Oklahoma (4-2) dropped to the No. 2 seed after losing two games Thursday. It will play Arkansas in the opening round.
Despite the pair of losses, Oklahoma is still confident heading into the tournament. Part of that comes from the way the team has found a way to stage comebacks late in games.
“These kids have a lot of heart,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Schafer said. “They are going to fight. They are not going to quit until the end. That’s what makes baseball exciting. You have to play all seven.”
Oklahoma did its best to make one of those comebacks against Texas after trailing 6-1 in the top of the seventh inning. They strung together a couple of hits before an error by Texas allowed a run to score. Gavin Lavalley added an RBI single to close the deficit to three runs.
With two runners on base, Isaac Hollihan came to the plate as the potential game-tying run. However, the Claremore native popped up to end the game.
Combined with a 7-5 loss to Georgia earlier in the day, it was not the kind of day Oklahoma wanted to see.
“We just come back and get ready to play,” Matthew Whatley said. “We played two good teams today. We are just going to keep playing.”
Oklahoma’s offense came out firing to start the night against Texas. Tre Edwards and Gavin Lavalley both came up with doubles in the first. But poor baserunning kept Oklahoma from putting any runs on the board.
Texas didn’t waste any time in making Oklahoma pay. Ryne Birk clubbed a 2-run homer to lead off the bottom of the first off Garnett Berge. Then Slayton Vaugh smashed a solo home run to left field and gave Texas an early 3-0 lead.
Oklahoma answered in the second with a Gage Traon RBI. But that would be all it could muster until the final inning.
Now Oklahoma must bounce back if it wants to make it back to the Heartland championship game for the second straight year.
“I feel like it motivates us to play better (today),” Hollihan said. “We are going to come out more competitive than the last two days. I feel like we are going to come out and play really good ball. We are looking to get in the finals and hopefully play Texas or possibly Georgia again. It depends on how we do in the first couple of bracket games.”
Follow me @eyeamtruth