A zany, epic, no-way, can't-believe-it Sooner baseball victory
Sooners are on schedule to return to NCAA regional play, but victories like the one earned at Kansas Saturday probably shouldn't come so hard
Plug into a game expecting to write one kind of story and though that story still needs telling, leave it to the diamond to offer so much more.
Saturday, impossibly more.
In Lawrence for the second of their three-game set against the Jayhawks, just the kind of conference series a team like the one coach Skip Johnson’s Sooners want to be must clam or sweep, Oklahoma was up to the task.
The Sooners almost weren’t.
Myriad misplays in the fourth inning allowed Kansas to score four runs when only one should have crossed.
Yet, after 14 innings and almost five hours, OU had indeed triumphed, thus claimed the series, keeping their hopes of sweeping alive pending today’s 1 p.m. start back at Hoglund Ballpark.
The Sooners’ 7-6 victory lifted them to 24-13 overall, 6-5 in the Big 12. Perhaps most importantly, they did it with clutch hitting and fantastic relief pitching, stubbornly refusing to die, prevailing despite not leading until Tanner Treadaway lifted a sacrifice fly to center field in the top of the 14th, scoring Peyton Graham, the Sooner shortstop who went 4 for 7, finishing a triple short of the cycle.
With just that, it was one of those games. One of those games offering stuff you swear you've never seen before even though they play dang near every day.
Beyond the epic craziness that never ended is where winning puts OU.
Probably, it keeps it where it already was on the national landscape, which is better than going backward.
No sport comes with as many sets of rankings as college baseball and in none will you find OU.
D1Baseball.com, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball are not polls, just rankings, but they carry weight the same way Sports Illustrated once carried weight when it would rank stuff.
The NCBWA writers' poll runs 30 deep and the Sooners aren’t on it, though they’re receiving votes and would be 44th if the list were carried out.
The USA Today coaches’ poll runs 25 deep, 23 others are receiving votes and OU’s not any of them.
But the Sooners aren’t forgotten.
The NCAA had them No. 41 in its RPI entering the weekend.
D1Baseball.com puts out an RPI, too, in which they’re 28th.
Then there’s bracketology.
The Sooners are trying to reach NCAA regional play for the first time since 2017, Pete Hughes’ last year on the job before Johnson rose to replace him.
Right now, they’re in.
But it’s dicey.
It would be more dicey had Cade Horton — a three-year starting quarterback at Norman High, remember him? — not tied the game in the ninth inning when coming on to pinch hit he took the first pitch he saw from Jayhawk reliever Stone Hewlett up the middle, bringing home Mason Lowe to make it 6-6.
It would be more dicey, too, had the Sooner bullpen not thrown 9 2/3 innings of seven-hit, one-run, 10-strikeout, three-walk relief, most of it from Trevin Michael, who tossed the last six, allowing three hits, no runs, two walks and a single hit while striking out eight.
Heroic, awesome stuff.
The 14 innings included lots of other stuff, too:
• 10 pitchers, 30 hits, 27 men left on base, 19 stranded by OU.
• Three different strike’em-out-throw’em-out double plays, two finished by Sooner catcher Jimmy Crooks.
• In addition to Graham’s near-cycle, seven hits between OU’s Blake Robertson (4 for 8) and Wallace Clark (3 for 6).
• Crooks’ crazy line at the plate: 0 for 4, four walks, sending his batting average down and his on-base percentage up.
• The most oddly similarly-named-yet-unrelated-one-hole-two-hole duo you’re bound to ever see in KU second baeeman Tavian Josenberger and third baseman Dylan Ditzenberger. Nothing they did, just their names.
• The exceedingly rare 5-2 double play that almost kept OU from reaching extra frames, when Clark’s sharp bouncer to third was fielded by Ditzenberger, who stepped on the bag to force Jackson Nicklaus out, before throwing home where Nolan Metcalf tagged Crooks out.
• The very first pitch OU reliever Carter Cambell threw finishing out of the park, a home run from Tom Lichty to lead off the bottom of the sixth, securing KU’s last run.
Had the Sooners not come back with three in the ninth to tie it and the last one in the 14th to win it, more of this would have been spent on the bottom of the fourth, when Trent Brown misplayed Upshaw’s right-field wind-blown flare into a triple and the following error from Graham, off the bat of Jack Hammond, that allowed Caleb McMurray to step up and lash a two-run double, putting the Jayhawks on top 5-1.
That and the top of the sixth, when Clark was thrown out trying to steal second base having all but stopped along the way, thinking Kendall Pettis had just taken ball four at the plate. He hadn’t. It was a called strike three, giving Metcalf not only time to frame it, but throw him out, too.
The Sooners’ margin for error to return to the NCAA draw is too narrow for such miscues, though valiantly, they survived them.
Still on schedule to get back to the dance, today they can sweep.
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