A week ago, Oklahoma and Kansas State met in a critical three-game series to determine the Big 12 baseball regular-season champion. Kansas State won that battle and took home its first league baseball crown in 80 years. Those same two teams faced each other on Saturday with another title in play – the Big 12 postseason tournament championship – and this time the results were reversed, as the Sooners held off a furious K-State comeback to win a 7-6 thriller in 11 innings.
OU (39-19), the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 baseball crown and the No. 4 seed in the conference championship, now moves on, with a chance to salvage at least one of the two league titles up for grabs in the 2013 season. The Sooners’ opponent in the tournament championship final at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City on Sunday is another school from the Sunflower State, the Kansas Jayhawks, the surprising winner of Pool Two as the tournament’s No. 6 seed.
The Jayhawks (34-24) finished sixth in the 2013 regular season, one spot higher than the previous season but with six more conference wins than in 2012. To reach Sunday’s Championship game, Kansas defeated TCU 4-0 on Saturday, preceded by wins over three-seed West Virginia and two-seed Oklahoma State in the opening two rounds.
Oklahoma won two out of three from Kansas this season in a series played in Norman.
Coach Sunny Gollaway’s Sooners path to the Big 12 Championship game included consecutive shutouts over five-seed Baylor (2-0) on Thursday and Texas Tech (8-0) on Friday. Since losing out to Kansas State in its quest for its first Big 12 regular-season crown, Golloway says his Sooner squad has been on a mission to make good on its opportunity to win a championship ring by rebounding with a perfect run through the conference tournment.
“These players have been through a lot,” Golloway said. “They’ve come up short three times in the last calendar year, and I don’t think they can handle going through that again.”
By advancing to Sunday’s Big 12 Champoionship game, Kansas likely has earned a spot in the NCAA Championship to follow. A win over the Sooners in the title game will assure the Jayhawks of playing on into June by virtue of claiming the Big 12 automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve been grinding all season,” said Kansas coach Ritchie Price. “We swept Baylor (in the regular season) and thought we’d play our way in (to the NCAA Tournament), then we lost six in a row and played our way out.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get in now,” he said. “I have a hard time believing they won’t take four teams from our conference.”
Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are practically locks to be among the 64-team field in the NCAA Baseball Championship. The question is: How many other Big 12 teams might make the field? Kansas, West Virginia and Baylor are vying to be what could likely be the final school from the Big 12 to make this year’s NCAA Tournament field.
Kansas is seeking its second Big 12 postseason championship (the Jayhawks’ were conference tournamant champions in 2006) and an invite to its fifth NCAA appearance in baseball.
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