Sooners take on Red Raiders

OU’s Peyton Graham swings Thursday during the Sooners’ Big 12 Tournament game against Texas Tech at Globe Life Field. Due to press deadlines, the result of the game will not be in today’s paper. To see the story, visit www.normantranscript.com.

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Oklahoma was battling to hang on to a two-run lead when it went up to bat in the top of the seventh inning.

The Sooners hadn’t scored since the second inning of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship on Thursday at Globe Life Field. Still, a strong performance on the mound by Jake Bennett was enough to hold off the Red Raiders while the offense adjusted.

After picking up two early outs in the seventh, the Sooners looked like they would once again be relying on their defense, but a walk, a single and a batter being hit by a pitch loaded up the bases with Peyton Graham due up at the plate.

Facing a 1-2 count, Graham squeezed a ground ball up the right side for a single that scored two runs.

The hit opened up the Sooners’ lead, and took the pressure off of Bennett and the defense.

“He was executing pitches, and just going with the game plan of what he does (best) with his strengths — locating his fastball and keeping those guys off-balance, because they’re a really good offense,” OU head coach Skip Johnson said.

During the next at-bat, Texas Tech pitcher Andrew Morris attempted to pick off Graham, and caught the redshirt sophomore in between the base paths.

Standing at third base, John Spikerman made a break for home plate as Graham took off towards second. The Red Raiders’ first baseman opted to throw to second, but the ball skipped off the dirt and ended up rolling into the outfield.

The Sooners scored three runs on two hits in the inning to take a comfortable 6-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Texas Tech closed the gap late on a two-run home run by Kurt Wilson, but the Sooners held on for a 6-3 win.

Jackson Nicklaus put the Sooners out front early with a three-run home run in the second inning on a line drive that just missed the top of the right field wall. It was the second time this season that Nicklaus has come away with a home run on Morris.

“I know from watching other hitters that he was trying to establish the fastball early,” Nicklaus said. “He beat me (earlier in the at-bat), I was late on a fastball and fouled it off the back. I knew he was probably going to come back with (a fastball) since I was late.”

Bennett pitched the first seven innings before being taken out midway through the eighth. The redshirt sophomore allowed two hits and one earned run, while striking out 12 batters and walking two.

Bennett didn’t allow a walk until the Sooners had a five-run lead in the bottom of the seventh. To that point, the team hadn’t allowed a walk in over 16 innings of baseball at the tournament.

“Well, early in the year we weren’t walking anybody and we were giving up a ton of hits,” Johnson said about the walks. “You’ve just got to keep with the approach of letting those guys earn their way on, because hitting is hard. I think we got out of that, and tried to get away from making them swing and miss.

“If you could throw 27 pitches and win would you? Yeah, everybody says that, but they love the strikeout. They get in the game and they try really hard (to strike the guy out) and when you try in this game you fail.”

Graham finished two for four at the plate with two RBI. The Sooners’ seven team hits came from six different players. The Red Raiders had four hits in the game with two of those coming during a two-run ninth inning.

With the win, Oklahoma improves to 4-1 on the season against Texas Tech.

Oklahoma will now have a day to rest before playing the winner of Texas Tech-Kansas State on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. It will have two chances to try to win one game and advance to the conference championship game on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Tarik Masri is a sports reporter for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing tarik@normantranscript.com

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