The top of the second inning appeared to be lost for Oklahoma.
Leading 1-0 against Texas A&M during the opening round of the Men’s College World Series, two of the Sooners’ first at-bats ended in outs. With only a runner on first, the Sooners’ chances of extending the lead looked slim.
But, as they have all season, the Sooners found a way. The team was successful on the next five at-bats — three hits and two walks — to push the lead to 5-0.
But the ultimate gut punch to the Aggies came in Jimmy Crooks’ at-bat, as he hit a three-run home run to right field to push the early lead to eight runs. That capped off an inning that saw the Sooners record four hits and score seven runs despite facing two outs.
It was that early push that helped propel the Sooners to a 13-8 win last Friday to open the MCWS. It’s been those kind of innings, with the Sooners backed into a corner, that have helped get them within one game of the championship series.
OU coach Skip Johnson attributes that to the team’s aggressive mindset.
“That’s the mindset, because if you take the failure out of the game, it’s always there,” Johnson said. “And if you attack and be aggressive and not worry about the failure, then that’s what it’s really about. You gave yourself a chance to succeed by trying to fail.”
That’s been the message for the Sooners’ offense all season, and it began early. Through 66 games, the Sooners have stolen 145 bases — the fourth most in the country and 94 more than the number of bases their opponents have stolen. For comparison, the Sooners stole 46 bases in 55 games last season.
That’s continued in the MCWS. Against Notre Dame on Sunday, the Sooners attempted five steals and stole three bases. Peyton Graham became the first player since Barry Bonds in 1984 to record four hits and steal two bases in a MCWS game.
“That’s our identity — to try and create as much chaos as we can on the offensive side,” Johnson said.
The Sooners’ batters have also made a habit of being aggressive while facing two strikes, and nobody has been more successful than redshirt senior Tanner Tredaway.
Against Notre Dame, Tredaway hit a single while facing a 2-2 count that scored Peyton Graham for the game’s first run. He did it again in the bottom of the sixth inning, hitting a single to center field on a 0-2 count that scored John Spikerman and gave the Sooners their sixth and final run of the game.
“That’s kind of our motto. We want to battle for our team, especially with runners in scoring position,” Tredaway said after the team’s 6-2 win over the Fighting Irish.
“I just try to swing at good pitches, try not to get out of my zone. The two-strike approach has been really good, really key for me the last couple of weeks. I think that’s helped me tremendously. But, yeah, I’m just trying to hit good pitches and do my thing and be on time, more than anything.”
That aggressive mindset can be credited, in part, to new assistant coach Reggie Willits, the team’s offensive coordinator. The former New York Yankees assistant played for the Sooners from 2002-2003 and was hired as an assistant late last year.
His impact has really helped fuel the Sooners’ offense, which has averaged 8.3 runs per game during the postseason.
“I think [he] gave them an identity,” Johnson said. “That’s what Reggie has done. He’s detail oriented. and the biggest thing from my standpoint is what they do is they keep attacking. and no matter the fear, getting out at times or whatnot, I think they just keep attacking.”
The Sooners will look to advance to the MCWS championship series at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Texas A&M in Omaha, Nebraska and will be broadcast on ESPN. A loss would force an “if-necessary” game Thursday.