Skip Johnson is a man of many phrases. Maybe the most common was his urge for his players, and the coaching staff, to take things “one pitch at a time.”

But he wasn’t interested in using phrases or being particularly reflective after Oklahoma’s season-ending loss to Ole Miss Sunday in Game 2 of the Men’s College World Series.

“I wanted to win the national championship,” Johnson said after the 4-2 loss. “That’s what my goal was. It’ll continue to be my goal.”

It’s understandable. The Sooners didn’t care how unexpected it was that they’d make a run to college baseball’s biggest stage. They expected to win.

But whether Johnson and the team is able to fully realize it just yet, they actually accomplished one of the hardest things to do in college sports, even without a national championship. They created a winning culture this season that should be able to carry on into the future.

It was that culture that pushed their postseason run and even helped them overcome the odds until the very end. Just look at how they started the season.

Hitting the refresh button on the team culture had been the emphasis for Johnson coming into the season, but it didn’t take off right away. Their performance was about what was expected — they opened the season 20-13 and dropped two of their first three conference series to Texas and Oklahoma State.

But something changed. They started to believe.

“We’ve been doubted all year,” OU redshirt freshman Cade Horton said. “We were picked to finish sixth in the Big 12.

“I think looking back at the beginning of the year, we didn’t know how to win yet, and that’s something our team figured out, and we went through struggles with that, the series against Texas and Oklahoma State. We kind of learned and got through that, learned how to win, started believing in each other, and it kind of just took off from there and set a good clear path for us.”

The Sooners didn’t lose another conference series after that. They won all four games in the Big 12 Tournament and went 8-4 in the NCAA Tournament.

It was the definition of unexpected.

It’s not that the Sooners didn’t have talent. Maybe that talent was undervalued or not fully appreciated. But by all accounts, they were undermatched in the postseason against Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and even Texas A&M.

But they continued to believe in each other.

Of course, teams need a little more than a good culture to win a national championship. That was apparent against Ole Miss, the betting favorites to win the championship series. They were a well-coached team that was well-prepared and had plenty of talent. The Sooners at times looked a little overwhelmed, at least in Game 1. The Rebels didn’t.

But the Sooners kept fighting, even holding a one-run lead until the eighth inning of Game 2, something Johnson acknowledged even as they grieved their loss.

“That’s one thing that they’ve done all year long,” Johnson said. “They’ve fought and they’ve fought and they’ve fought and they’ve battled and battled. That’s a part of their DNA, and that’s a part of what the University of Oklahoma has taught them to do and our culture has taught them how to do. I’m really proud of those guys.”

The Sooners’ postseason run is already paying dividends. They’ll soon be making stadium-wide upgrades to L. Dale Mitchell Park, including fan seats, locker rooms, training rooms and a player development center, thanks to a $5.1 million donation from Brian and Kim Kimrey of Bartlesville. More recruits are now sure to give the Sooners an extra glance, too.

Now the challenge comes from building on this momentum.

The Sooners will lose valuable seniors Tanner Tredaway — who led the team in batting average (.370) and hits (105) — and Trevin Michael. They could lose important young guys like Horton, Peyton Graham, Jimmy Crooks and Jake Bennett to the MLB Draft next month.

They will also transition to the Southeastern conference, widely considered the best conference in baseball, by 2025 at the latest. The conference had four of the eight teams in the MCWS, including the eventual champion Rebels. Texas, who also made the MCWS, will also join the Sooners in departing the Big 12 for the SEC.

It’s not going to be easy. But the Sooners have already beaten the odds once, and they did it on the back of an established, winning culture. In a lot of ways, that’s the hard part.

“What they did and what they accomplished was incredible,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to continue to grow as a team.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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