NORMAN — There’s no exact date for when Oklahoma fully understood that its only path to the NCAA tournament required a Big 12 tournament title. Any of those series-losing defeats from mid April through the beginning of May could have done it.
The Sooners (28-27, 8-16 Big 12) from the head coach to the bullpen catcher fully comprehend that anything less than winning the championship on Sunday means spending Memorial Day cleaning out the lockers back at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
However, this is the event the Sooners have waited all season to get to.
“All of us returners, you go to bed at night and that ring is still on our night stands,” OU catcher Anthony Hermelyn said. “It’s a reminder of what you can accomplish if you get on a run and get hot.”
The Sooners did that last season by going from ice cold to blazing hot at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
OU lost nine of its last 12 heading into last season’s Big 12 tournament. Only 7-3 victory over Kansas State in the regular-season finale served as momentum.
Then, the Sooners caught fire.
Jonathan Gray dominated Baylor in a 2-0 victory to start things off. The complete-game three-hitter included 12 strikeouts. It was Gray’s only appearance in the tournament, yet he was still named the event’s most outstanding player.
The pitching dominance continued a day later against Texas Tech. Dillon Overton struck out five the 21 batters he faced in five innings. Ralph Garza and Kindle Ladd combined to allow just one base runner over the final four innings in relief.
The difference: OU’s started heating up at the plate. It turned a tight game into a romp with seven runs in its last two at-bats.
They were needed against the Wildcats.
OU never trailed in the last season’s tournament. The only time it was a tie game beyond the innings came when the Wildcats rallied from four runs down to tie it in the eighth and plated another game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth.