Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Their pitching path now narrow, Sooners must start hitting after Game 1 at champ series
Oklahoma, which hasn't suffered two straight defeats since the first week of May, has no more losses to play with
The excitement and sense of destiny it created aside, the best thing about Oklahoma not trailing on the way to three straight triumphs to reach the best two-of-three Men’s College World Series championship series was coach Skip Johnson having all his pitching all set up.
Yet, what Saturday night’s 10-3 loss to Ole Miss at Charles Schwab Field revealed was all that pitching may not be that much pitching.
Though three straight national champions, and five of six, lost their championship series opener, the Sooners' mound ticket to make that happen a fourth straight time is narrow.
In victories over Texas A&M, Notre Dame and A&M again, games OU outscored the Aggies and Irish 24-11 and were only even stuck in tie games for 12 outs, only five pitchers took the mound.
Jake Bennett, Cade Horton and David Sandlin each went deep in their starts, Trevin Michael and his rubber arm tossed 6 2/3 innings over three game-closing appearances and, but for a forgettable third of an inning Sandlin offered in relief on day one, Jaret Godman tossed a grand total of one inning.
Now, unless OU’s prepared to knock the cover off the ball as it did against A&M the first time around — and certainly not waiting until the sixth inning to put its first runner on base as it did Saturday — the remaining ticket is Cade Horton going seven or more quality innings beginning at 2 p.m. today, followed by two or fewer frames from Michael, then Sandlin copying Horton on Monday and Michael closing again.
It’s baseball, so a million other things could happen, but if there’s a path in sight, that’s it.
Horton’s been fantastic since they end of May.
In his last four starts, three since NCAA play began, he’s tossed 23 2/3 innings, struck out an amazing 36, walked just eight and allowed seven runs, total and earned.
Sandlin’s string of success isn’t nearly so long — one start — but he was terrific last Wednesday, allowing one run over seven innings and striking out 12 against the Aggies.
It can be done.
Indeed, it happened only last week.
It must happen again.
Unless OU can do a whole lot more at the plate, the kind of thing it’s been doing for about 40 games.
Jack Dougherty hadn’t allowed an earned run going back five appearances and 12 innings and Friday's Ole Miss starter was perfect for five frames against OU, but maybe lay down a bunt before the sixth inning, make somebody make a play, something?
The Sooners didn’t try it until getting two hits to open the sixth from Jackson Nicklaus and Sebastian Orduno, after which Kendall Pettis laid down a beauty, drew an errant throw and Nicklaus came around to score.
OU wound up getting one more run in the frame, but needed two or three more after John Spikerman followed Pettis with a walk, loading the bases with nobody out.
In came Mason Nichols for Dougherty, who opened with seven straight sliders, most of them up in the zone and hittable, yet Peyton Graham nor Blake Robertson could ever convince themselves another one was coming, and after they struck out, the Sooners were fortunate to put another run across, when Nichols walked Tanner Tredaway.
Given all the confidence he escaped with in the sixth, Nichols struck out the side — Wallace Clark, Nicklaus, Orduno — in the seventh.
It still wasn’t over.
OU had six outs to play with and given its previous three games, it was a lot …
Until the Sooners’ lack of relief pitching showed up in the eighth, when they won a challenge to nab their second out at third base, only for Chazz Martinez to then allow a pinch-hit two-run home run to T.J. McCants and solo shots to Calvin Harris and Justin Bench, back-to-back-to-back.
Indeed, the only real victories OU earned after chasing Dougherty was a 10-pitch at-bat from Orduno against Nichols to close the seventh, pushing the Rebel reliever to 34 pitches, and putting four runners on base in the eighth and ninth innings against Josh Mallitz, pushing the second Rebel reliever to 40 pitches.
So maybe two of Ole Miss’ best bullpen arms are all burned up.
Not much, but it’s something.
As is the fact OU hasn’t dropped two straight games since dropping three straight to Kansas State, Dallas Baptist and TCU the first week of May some 25 games ago, after which it's gone 18-6, scoring 7.5 runs per outing.
The Sooners needs pitching.
That and more of what got them here, because they’re still just two wins from a national championship.
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