By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Give Oklahoma and Oklahoma State credit, because they always figure out a way to make the Bedlam baseball series about something more than the rivalry.
Each team has a knack for heating up or cooling off right before they’re set to meet. The Sooners (34-14, 11-7 Big 12) are still atop the Big 12 Conference standings. But dropping two of three last weekend to West Virginia opened the door for the Mountaineers and Kansas State to join OU in the top spot.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys (34-12, 9-8) took two of three from Texas Tech to move above .500 in the league and inch closer to securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“This will be a big series and a big momentum changer,” OU outfielder Max White said.
OU hopes it is a positive switch in momentum, and the games against OSU may be the perfect opportunity. With only six conference games left, the only way to guarantee a Big 12
championship is to win them all.
Yet even that might not be enough, since the charging Mountaineers hold the tiebreaker.
There’s a lot of pressure for all involved. What never changes is that the team in one dugout will handle it better than the other.
Some things will be revealed when the teams meet at 7 tonight at ONEOK Field in Tulsa. Jake Fisher (1-2, 1.91 ERA) takes the mound against OSU’s Jason Hursh (4-4, 2.63 ERA). The series moves to Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games.
The teams’ records going into the series may be irrelevant — hot teams have gone ice cold and vice versa when facing Bedlam rivals.
OU, which has lost four of its last five games, qualifies as the cold team.
“We haven’t played our best baseball in the last month,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “We’re due to hit our stride.”
If the Sooners don’t, the Big 12 championship, which it has been poised to win for nearly two months, is going to be out of reach.
Mix that pressure with the psychological effect experienced by players who go from performing for 1,500 fans to more than 8,000.
OU pitcher Jonathan Gray experienced it last season for the first time, picking up the Sooners’ only win against the Cowboys last season and throwing seven innings of four-hit ball in an 8-4 victory.
He admitted this week it might have been the most angst he’s ever felt on the mound.
“I had never been in that atmosphere before because I’d never been to a Bedlam game,” Gray said. “Just being there gave me a lot of insight toward it. The bigger crowd the better I am.”
The Sooners need a team full of guys who will play that way. It’s become an annual occurrence because the Sooners’ play over the last two weeks has thrust more pressure on a traditionally tensioned-filled series.
But for OU’s seniors, it would feel strange if that were not the case.
“It’s been that way every year in my four years. We’ve always had to fight,” White said. By late Sunday afternoon, it will all be over. One team will generate maximum momentum heading into the final week of the regular season and the postseason. The other will be wondering where it all went wrong.
“It seems like every year Bedlam always puts us in or out of something,” OU shorstop Jack Mayfield said. “This weekend is going to be huge. It always is.”
Follow me @john_shinn