The Norman Transcript

May 25, 2014

Season-long issues stay unresolved for Sooners

The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s Big 12 tournament run mirrored what it did during the 24-game conference slate. The Sooners dropped two of three.

The only difference was the 11-8 loss to Oklahoma State at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that ended early Saturday morning brought closure to the season. At 29-29, there will not be an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2007.

The manner of play in the Big 12 tournament illustrated why the Sooners’ season will not extend into June.

Inconsistent starting pitching and unreliable defense weighed them down throughout the regular season. Those shackles remained in place in OU’s two losses to the Cowboys and in their 9-8 victory over Texas on Thursday.

In the elimination game against the Cowboys, Adam Choplick lasted five innings. That was a little more than average for OU starting pitchers this season. It could have been more innings, but Choplick’s 115 pitches included just 57 strikes. He was dominant at times with eight strikeouts. But it’s impossible to go deep into games without being efficient.

“His consistency, I think that’s what we’re all aiming for in this game,” OU coach Pete Hughes said of Choplick. “The team that plays the most consistent, in whatever phase of it, usually wins. That holds true on the mound as well. There’s a kid that’s come a long way from last year, too. We’ve got to keep working him and getting him consistent and keep building his confidence. He certainly can be a dominant arm. It’s just a matter of him being a little more consistent.”

The Sooners did not help him with three errors. Seven of the runs were unearned. Those extra outs helped drive up pitch counts and force calls to the bullpen to come earlier than expected.

They also cause scenarios like the one that effectively ended the season. Two runners on and two out after an error to start the inning, OSU’s Aaron Cornell blasts a three-run home run to win the game in the top of the eighth inning. Make the routine plays — like the grounder shortstop Hector Lorenzana bobbled to start the inning — and OU would’ve been back in the dugout in a tied game.

The Sooners finished the season with 91 errors and allowed 68 unearned runs. Consistently winning is impossible when routine defensive plays are that much of a struggle.

The Cowboys exposed OU’s infield issues midway through the game. The Sooners had a 6-3 lead going into the sixth inning, but trouble fielding a sacrifice ignited the Cowboys’ four-run inning.

“I thought he pitched well enough to put us in position to win. We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals of baseball and defend the bunt. We didn’t defend the bunt play twice. Really that was the story of the game,” Hughes said. “We can talk about the big home run and all that other stuff. You can throw that away. We defend the bunt, we don’t even talk about that home run.”

Hughes has a point. However, the defensive issues were present on opening day and never went away. The teams playing in NCAA tournament regionals later this week improved in some fashion throughout the season.

Winning streaks are built on consistent play. In two essential areas, the Sooners were never reliable. In the end, it doomed them to lose two out of three Big 12 Conference games in the regular season and the same happened in the Big 12 tournament.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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