OKLAHOMA CITY — After Baylor disposed of Oklahoma 8-2 in a Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the Sooners’ starting pitcher acknowledged what’s at stake.
With most outlets already projecting the Sooners to narrowly miss an NCAA regional for the first time since 2016, a win could have cemented OU’s spot in an NCAA regional.
Baylor provided an opportunity at a much-needed quality victory, but a loss puts OU one more defeat away from tourney elimination and could help usher in the offseason.
“It’s down to nut-cutting time,” Cavalli said. “It’s either win or go home at this point. We’re going to see what we’re made of over the next couple games.”
Cavalli’s first extended start in a month went fine, outside two mistakes. Baylor catcher Shea Langaliers took Cavalli deep over the center-field wall for a two-run home run in the top of the first inning, then Andy Thomas yanked a two-run homer to right field in the fourth.
“The ball I threw to [Thomas] I threw a sinker and it didn’t sink, left the middle,” Cavalli said. “The ball I threw to [Langaliers], I mean, I was pitching from behind that first inning. And I felt like it would pop up, the wind was blowing out. I feel like any other day that’s a routine thing. The game just changed from then on, you gotta play from behind.”
Baylor led 4-0 by that point, then OU dealt with a familiar issue. It struggled with runners on base, leaving 10 stranded and going 0-8 with them in scoring position.
The Sooners (33-22) wasted an ideal scoring opportunity in the fourth inning after catcher Brady Lindsly reached on a bloop single. Tyler Hardman’s double off the left-field wall put runners at second and third base with one out, but Baylor starting pitcher Paul Dickens struck out Justin Mitchell and Brandon Zaragoza to end the threat.
“We haven’t played from behind really good all year … That was a big momentum swing for us,” OU coach Skip Johnson said. “When you don’t take the momentum — because they had the momentum — it really separates.”
Baylor starting pitcher Paul Dickens scattered six hits across 6 1/3 innings and struck out six batters. He reacted with an emotional fist pump after escaping the fourth-inning jam.
“I think he was effectively wild,” Johnson said. “When we hit him in the mouth a little bit he made some big pitches. We had a chance there, second and third, Lindsly hit a big double off of him, and [the strikeouts] were a separator for him.”
Cavalli retired eight straight batters after Langeliers' homer and walked just two batters. He surrendered four runs on six hits by the time his five-inning appearance ended.
Baylor tacked on three more runs in the sixth inning against reliever Aaron Brooks.
OU’s odds of playing beyond this week appear to have taken a hit, barring a run deep into this week.
Of course, that’s what happened last season. The Sooners were shutout 4-0 by Baylor in the opening round before beating Texas and Kansas to reach the semifinals.
The Sooners play the loser between Oklahoma State and TCU, who played late into Wednesday night.
Cavalli, who is just getting healthy after dealing with a stress reaction, hasn’t been in the batting order in more than a month. As a .319 hitter he could help the offense as a designated hitter.
“Obviously I wanted to help the team today and I didn’t do that. That’s taking a toll on me right now, for sure,” Cavalli said. “We’re gonna come back and we’re gonna make a run in this thing. I know it.
Johnson has said he believes the Sooners are worthy of playing in an NCAA regional. But he’s OK with players taking a mindset that the year is on the line.
“I mean, for sure. No doubt about that,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to understand [the stakes]. If they want to do that, that’s good. You’ve got to like that fire.”
Big 12 tournament
• Game: OU (33-22) vs. Oklahoma State/TCU
• Time: 12:30 p.m.
• Place: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark | Oklahoma City
• Radio: KREF 1400 am | 99.3 FM
• TV: FCS