NORMAN — It’s been years since Oklahoma felt like it had to win the Big 12 tournament to prolong its season. It missed the NCAA tournament in 2007, but that year, OU was No. 33 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Leaving it out was a stunning omission.
If it happens again when the NCAA tournament bracket is released Monday afternoon, few will be caught off guard. The Sooners were No. 50 in the RPI Monday.
So, when and why did Oklahoma’s season go off the rails?
The date isn’t exact, but there was one particular series where holes started to appear.
On April 12, the Sooners started a three-game series at Baylor. They arrived there 27-6 with a 7-2 record in the Big 12 Conference and having won 15 of its last 17 games.
OU dropped two of three in Waco, Texas, with both losses coming on walk-off home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. They were two of the 13 losses OU (36-19, 13-11 Big 12) suffered over the final 22 games.
The schedule didn’t help: OU coach Sunny Golloway knew the schedule was back-loaded. Their last nine Big 12 games were away from L. Dale Mitchell Park. The Sooners needed to make hay earlier in the season to create a cushion. OU dropped two of three in those last three series at West Virginia and Kansas State, and in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to Oklahoma State.
“It’s a tough three-series row; there’s no doubt about it,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “We knew it was gonna be tough and we knew we had to play really well.”
Those were hot teams when OU faced all three. But when you look back at wins that got away, there are more obvious candidates. The 10-8 loss to Kansas on March 30 at L. Dale Mitchell Park was a game where OU rallied from a seven-run deficit, but blew a two-run lead late.
Also, OU won its first series against Texas this year, but the 1-0 loss to the Longhorns April 6 was a game that got away.
Too many zeroes: Scoring runs has been an issue in certain games but the 5.5 runs per game average isn’t what has killed the Sooners. In the 19 games since the Baylor series, the Sooners scored runs in. However, they scored runs in just 52 of the last 164 innings. Eliminate the New Orleans series where OU had 38 runs and OU had one game — April 26 against Texas Tech — where it scored in at least four innings in a game.
Why is that important? The Sooners’ offensive philosophy is built on applying constant pressure.
“We don’t have the ability to come from behind like we have in the past,” Golloway said. “We need to be able to execute hit-and-runs because we do have some speed. We can’t sit there and bang it, so we’re better at putting pressure on the defense if the games are close.”
The goal is to score one run an inning. It’s unrealistic, but OU allowed opposing pitchers to settle in and opponents to become comfortable because it would go four, five, six innings without scoring a run.
Overton’s injury: An elbow injury that knocked Dillon Overton out of the rotation for just two weeks. However, the left-hander hasn’t been dominant since a 3-1 victory against the Bears April 13.
In his three appearances since, he’s allowed 10 runs over 10 2-3 innings. He’s allowed 17 hits, but struck out just 10. He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher he was last season or in the first half of the season.
The lack of a fourth starter hurt: This problem wasn’t around in the first half of the season. Freshman Ralph Garza Jr., Corey Copping and Adam Choplick all had quality starts in midweek games in February and March.
Garza moved to bullpen when Big 12 play began and has been an effective reliever this season. Copping hasn’t pitched since suffering the loss in the first game of a doubleheader against Arkansas-Little Rock April 16. Choplick didn’t make it to the fourth inning in his last four starts.
Oberste cooled off: The pace first baseman Matt Oberste was on in the first half of the season but it wasn’t maintainable. In early April, he was hitting over .450 and on pace to belt over 20 home runs.
Once Big 12 play began, he cooled dramatically. Oberste hit .219 in league games. Only one of 10 home runs and 13 of his team-leading 51 RBIs came in the 24 conference games.
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