BLACKSBURG, Va. - — What has been the constant for Oklahoma during its three trips to the Commonwealth of Virginia since 2010? Two things, actually. First, a bus driver named Bernard, who has been along for the ride with the Sooners during each of their trips east to compete in the NCAA baseball postseason.
The second thing? Winning, of course.
The Sooners shook off a sluggish start Sunday and scored big late to eliminate host Virginia Tech 10-4 in the Blacksburg Regional final at English Field and advance to next week’s super regional in Baton Rouge against No. 4 national seed LSU.
OU senior Max White, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player, has been on all three winning teams in the state. He helped the Sooners win a Super Regional in Charlottesville in 2010, a regional at the same University of Virginia site in 2012 and this weekend’s regional at Tech.
“One, it is a beautiful state. Green everywhere,” White said. “I actually told my dad he should buy a home in the middle of nowhere, and it should be out here. ... We just find luck in Virginia, I guess.”
White played an integral role in the Sooners’ victory Sunday, both at the plate — where he was 2 for 5 with an RBI — and in the field, where he threw out the would-be tying run in the bottom of the sixth after Oklahoma (43-19) had wrestled the lead away from the Hokies (40-22).
OU took advantage of some hard-hit singles and two Tech errors to erase a 2-0 lead with a four-run sixth. The Hokies seemed ready to regain the momentum in the bottom half. With Tyler Horan at third and Andrew Rash at second, Chad Morgan hit a two-out flare to center field. Horan scored easily on the single, but White unleashed a rainbow throw to the plate to nab Rash, allowing OU to escape the inning with a 4-3 edge.
“I recognize after all these years that the lead is very important,” Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said. “Not to let them tie the game is very important. If they ever tied the game, the momentum swing would be huge. If we have the lead, we’ll be able to play our game.”
Tech had opportunities to tie it in each of the next two innings, but Chad Pinder grounded out with runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh, and the Hokies stranded Mark Zagunis at first after he led off the eighth with a single.
The Sooners blew the game open with a six-run ninth, giving the bullpen some breathing room as the celebration started in the OU dugout.
Starter Jake Fisher battled through 51⁄3 innings despite taking a line drive off his pitching hand, and the bullpen trio of Kindle Ladd, Kyle Hayes and Jacob Evans kept Tech off the scoreboard after that.
“If you don’t play clean baseball — on a Tuesday or in a regional final — you’re not going to win a game,” Tech coach Pete Hughes said. “Credit Oklahoma. They played clean. For the most part, they made most of the routine plays. We had trouble doing that.”