Coming into the Big 12 Baseball Championship this week, Oklahoma had lost nine of its last 12 games and fallen from first to fourth in the conference standings. Seven of those Sooner losses came during a damaging 10-game span in the month of May.
On Sunday, Oklahoma won its fourth game in as many days, including a thrilling 7-6 extra-inning decision over K-State on Saturday to get to the Big 12 Championship final, jumping out in front eartly and riding out a 5-2 win over sixth-seeded Kansas. It was the Sooners’ 40th win of the season against 19 losses.
Oklahoma got a clutch five-inning pitching performance from its ace closer, Jacob Evans, who took over for starter Ethan Carnes in the third, and a three-run first inning, which proved to be all the Sooners needed. Junior designated hitter Matt Oberste blasted a two-run home run in the third to stretch the OU lead to 5-1. Oberste, the Big 12 leader in five offensive categories, drove in two more runs, giving him four RBI for the game, with a single in the Sooners’ half of the ninth inning.
“We finally won it again,” Sooner head coach Sunny Golloway said. alluding to the fact that OU had not won A Big 12 Tournament championship since the conference’s first year in 1997. “We’ve had a gorilla on our back, (but) we still need to win a regular-season title.” Oklahoma was the preseason favorite of the league coaches to win the Big 12 regular-season crown this season.
Kansas, which now waits to see if its run to the tournament championship game will be enough to earn the Jayhawks an invite to the NCAA Baseball Championship beginning next weekend, managed seven hits in the game off of three Oklahoma pitchers, but only two of them for extra bases (both doubles). KU was lead offensively by Connor McKay, who had two of the Jayhawks’ seven hits.
Tanner Poppe came out of the Kansas bullpen and gave his team five solid innings of two-hit relief, but the damage had already been done, as Oklahoma got to Jayhawk junior right-handed starter Frank Duncan for five runs (four of them earned) in the first three innings.
Oklahoma and Kansas turned four double plays combined in the game, setting a new Big 12 Conference Championship record.
The Jayhawks came into this year’s Big 12 Championship with an overall record of 34-24 and 12-12 in the league. Their 12 Big 12 wins marked a six-game improvement over a year ago.
Oklahoma receives the Big 12’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, and will be making its 35th NCAA postseason appearance.
The Sooners limped into the postseason conference tournament with the No. 4 seed and were placed in the same pool along with regular-season champion Kansas State, who took two of three from OU last weekend to clinch the 2013 conference crown, Baylor, the fifth seed, and eighth-seed Texas Tech.
OU did not allow a run in shutting out Baylor 2-0 and Texas Tech 8-0 in its opening two games in the Big 12 Tournament behind starters Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton, respectively. The Sooners’ biggest win, however, came on Saturday, when they avenged losing two of three and a chance at the Big 12 regular-season title to top-seeded Kansas State. OU jumped out in front early, much like it did in the first game of the series at K-State a week ago, only to have the Cats fight back and tie the game at 5-5, sending it into extra innings.
Both the Sooners and the Wildcats pushed across runs in the top and bottom half of the 10th, before Oklahoma scored again in the 11th to put the game away.
Kansas’ road to the conference tourney championship game followed victories over third-seeded West Virginia, then No. 2 seed Oklahoma State before shutting out TCU 4-0 on Saturday to win Pool Two with a perfect 3-0 record.
Follow Big 12 sports news all year long, including features, analysis, predictions and commentary, by becoming a regular visitor to Talking12.com.