Three games into the conference season and Sooner baseball coach Skip Johsnon’s preaching of process continues to pay off for Oklahoma.
Sunday’s 10-5 victory over Kansas was rocky in moments. Also, OU never trailed, finished off a sweep of the season's first Big 12 series, moved to 21-4 overall and 3-0 in the conference and, on Monday, will likely be rewarded by the college baseball polls.
Entering the weekend, the Sooners were No. 25 by both Collegiate Baseball and D1Baseball.com.
Coming out of it, they’re bound to be higher and in more of them.
“I thought [we] played really well,” Johnson said. “The process of today’s at bats were really good. We continued to put pressure on those guys.”
The Sooners put their hits together, cranking out 13 in all, including two from five different spots in its batting order: the one-hole (Diego Muniz), four-hole (Tyler Hardman), five-hole (Cade Cavali), six-hole (Brady Lindsly) and seven-hole (Conor McKenna).
Four straight hits from Muniz, Brandon Zaragoza, Brylie Ware and Hardman plated two runs in the third inning.
Two more arrived in the fourth off a leadoff triple from McKenna, an infield hit from Tanner Tredaway, a sacrifice bunt from Milan Walla and a wild pitch.
Then came three more in the fifth inning, aided by four walks, but also a single from Cavali and a sacrifice fly from Lindsly.
The Sooners put runs across in five of nine innings.
“It was a lot of fun to see everybody firing on all cylinders,” said Hardman, who was one of four Sooners to drive in a single run, while Lindsly drove in two. “And having guys who aren’t always in the lineup come in and do big things gives us a lot of confidence.”
Muniz fits that description.
The Sooner left fielder entered with only 31 at bats to his name this season. His two hits raised his average from .290 to .324.
On the mound, Levi Prater threw a lot of pitches and was therefore finished after five innings. Still, it was enough to move to 5-1 on the season after striking out six, walking one and hitting two batters without giving up an earned run.
The Sooner bullpen was a little shaky following Prater’s departure. In both the seventh and eighth innings, the potential go-ahead run stepped into the batter’s box.
Yet, after Jason Ruffcorn induced a double-play ball to close out the eighth inning on his first pitch and OU delivered two more runs in its half of the frame — one on a triple from Lindsly — the victory was back on ice.
“It’s a continuing process to make sure you put yourself in a routine, with a checklist,” Johnson said. “That’s the mental game. If you’re’ really focused on the mental game and understand what your routines are, that’s big, that’s the process.”
Thus far, well into the season, that process is agreeing with OU, which can make it 22 wins in 26 games Tuesday night in Stillwater, in a non-conference game against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.
• Prater’s dominance continues: Levi Prater only threw five innings Sunday because he was sitting on 99 pitches through those five innings and coach Skip Johnson doesn’t want to put his arm at risk. Still, Prater’s fantastic season only accelerated, as he struck out six, walked one, hit two batters and did not allow an earned run, lowering his earned run average from 1.14 to 0.98.
Perhaps most amazing about Prater’s season are his strikeouts. With 46 through 36.2 innings, he’s whiffing opponents at a higher rate than any other Sooner starter, despite not being a classic power pitcher. Only a few times did his fastball reach 90 miles per hour Sunday. He also threw a changeup and slider that measured from the mid-70s to the very low 80s.
• Ruffcorn magic: Jason Ruffcorn entered with one out in the top of the eighth inning and needed only eight pitches to get five outs and his sixth save. The first and fourth pitches he threw both yielded double plays. The second pitch he threw hit a batter.
Inside the game
Exactly how OU’s third inning got rolling was likely lost on everybody as they left the stadium but Kansas pitcher Eli Davis.
The Jayhawk starter, a Shawnee native, offered two seemingly perfect breaking balls to Sooner left fielder and leadoff hitter Diego Muniz. Both appeared to tumble right over the plate, but Muniz took both and home plate umpire David Wiley ruled both low and out of the strike zone.
That meant Muniz could sit on a fastball and he did, ripping it into the right-center field gap for a double. It was the first of four straight hits that produced two runs for the Sooners.
Had Davis been 0-2 on Muniz, rather than 2-0, it might have been a very different inning.
The Sooners, now 21-5 overall and 3-0 in Big 12 Conference play, travel to Stillwater for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch Tuesday against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State. Though against a conference foe, it is not a conference game.