DALLAS - In a repeat of several down-to-the-wire Big 12 Conference baseball races, Nebraska edged Baylor 7-6 with the tying and go-ahead runs at first and second base in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday's series finale in Lincoln, Neb., before 6,498 fans.
Nebraska won its second Big 12 title in three years after finishing tied for second with Texas Tech in 2002 behind eventual NCAA champion Texas. The Huskers also clinched the top seed in Wednesday-Sunday's Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference baseball tourney at Oklahoma City, Okla., with a final Big 12 mark of 20-7 under first-year head coach Mike Anderson.
Texas A&M (19-8) notched the second seed for its highest slot since the 1999 Aggies' championship season. Texas (19-8), which tied A&M for second place in the final 2003 Big 12 standings, is the third seed by virtue of a 2-1 series disadvantage to the Aggies. Missouri (15-11) edged Baylor (15-12) for the No 4 seed as those teams will meet in the first round Wednesday at 5 p.m. (CDT).
Oklahoma State (14-13) is the No. 6 seed while Oklahoma (10-17), which advanced to the tourney via a win in the last Big 12 series at Missouri, is the No. 7 seed. Kansas (9-18) makes its first-ever Big 12 postseason baseball appearance after rolling to 35 overall wins (the most since the 1994 squad closed 40-18) under new head coach Ritch Price.
The 2003 Phillips 66 Big 12 baseball tourney at SBC Bricktown Ballpark features a return of Division I postseason conference play to Oklahoma City for the 27th time in 28 years. Actually, the stadium kept Oklahoma City's streak of hosting college tournaments intact in 2002 as the Sooner State Conference held its annual tournament here for the fifth time in a current six consecutive years.
After a one-year trek to The Ballpark in Arlington in 2002, the Big 12 tourney is back at the facility where 66 of the first 79 Phillips 66 BTC postseason meets have been played. Plus, this is the same site where a collegiate record 13,066 watched the 1998 semifinals' encounter between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
But SBC Bricktown Ballpark also has been home to one of the most dominant runs of tournament appearances by one team since Oklahoma State won every Big Eight tourney from 1981-86. Nebraska started an amazing 13-1 run at Bricktown in 1999, and that resulted in three consecutive automatic bids to the NCAA Regionals after winning the league meet in 1999-01.
The ever-changing landscape is evident again as eight solid teams grace the 2003 field. Missouri returns to the field after missing qualification in 2001 and 2002 while Kansas last appeared in tourney play during the 1996 Big Eight tournament at Oklahoma City's All Sports Stadium-also the first Big 12 Phillips 66 site for the 1997 season.
Baylor makes its 16th all-time conference tournament appearance and has a storied history. The Bears captured the first two Southwest Conference tournaments in 1977 and '78 in Austin and later earned that league's automatic NCAA berth in 1994 with the postseason crown. Coach Steve Smith's crew has been batting above .330 for one of the nation's top team averages in 2003 and has a potential .400-plus overall hitter in OF David Murphy.
Missouri and coach Tim Jamieson have accomplished one of the top turnarounds in recent years in the Big 12 as the Tigers advance to a league tourney for the 23rd time since 1976. MU reworked its pitching staff, had much better team health and scored key midseason sweeps of Kansas and Kansas State to earn a trip back to the Sooner State. MU relief ace Travis Wendte literally has been the "saving grace" for several MU games while OF Jayce Tingler is a catalyst on offense.
Nebraska, as mentioned, really enjoys the environs of SBC Bricktown Ballpark with 13 wins in its last 14 games there. New head coach Anderson, who led the nation for first-season mentors with 42 wins in his first 56 games, was an assistant to current Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn during that tenure. Anderson's bench savvy and familiarity with the park will be very positive factors as the Huskers seek their fifth consecutive NCAA invitation and a possible third straight trek to the NCAA World Series.
Oklahoma State certainly is no stranger to success or Oklahoma City's rich college baseball history. Coach Tom Holliday's Cowboys follow a tradition of 27 trips to conference tournaments and a Big 12-most 68 wins against only 31 losses since OSU first advanced in 1976 circuit activity. Sophomore catcher Jason Jaramillo has been a steadying influence at the plate and defensively for Oklahoma State while pitcher Scott Baker rolled to nine wins in his first 13 decisions.
Texas became the first school to use the Phillips 66 Big 12 tourney as a segue to the NCAA Championship in 2002 from Arlington to Omaha. Ironically, the Longhorns fell to Texas A&M 8-4 in the late, late first round of the '02 conference meet and then won their way back through the bracket to down Nebraska 9-6 in the finals. Ace relief man Huston Street, now also making sterling defensive plays while doubling as a third baseman, is one of the nation's top bullpen stoppers for coach Augie Garrido.
Texas A&M and Oklahoma State just missed at-large NCAA berths last spring, and the Aggies have come back in 2003 with a vengeance. The Aggies feature the line-drive hitting that has distinguished teams coached by Mark Johnson since 1985 and have a salty mixture of starting pitchers. Just as in the case of Texas, if combinations of Ags' starters and middle-inning men can take the game into the late innings, OF-P All-America candidate Scott Beerer usually is there to save the day.
Coach Larry Cochell's Oklahoma Sooners also have a long and storied past in conference competition. In fact, OU launched its trip the NCAA title in 1994 by competing well against almost-annual Big Eight tourney victor Oklahoma State that season. 2B Eddie Cornejo and OF Reggie Willits have paced a late-season charge which helped OU win a pair of series against rival OSU and Kansas State down the stretch drive toward its 26th postseason trek in 28 years.
Kansas may be a
sentimental choice for many in the first appearance by the Jayhawks under Price.
It's a bit of a family affair for the 'Hawks as standout freshman SS Ritchie
Price joins his father as critical 2003 additions to the program. Versatile P-DH
Kevin Wheeler has had a solid impact for Kansas with a 6-3 pitching record to
begin the campaign and a .325-plus batting average most of the year. KU also has
the most "savvy" of any team in the field with 61 contests prior to the
tourney-thanks to a six-game trip to Hawai'i-Hilo to start the year.
2003 PHILLIPS 66 BIG 12 CONFERENCE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT PAIRINGS
Tentative schedule * (45-minute minimum between games - all times CDT)
Wed., May 21
Game 1: #3 Texas (38-16) vs. #6 Oklahoma State (32-22 prior to May 19), 10 a.m.
Game 2: #2 Texas A&M (41-15) vs. #7 Oklahoma (22-29), 1 p.m.
Game 3: #4 Missouri (34-18) vs. #5 Baylor (37-19), 5 p.m.
Game 4: #1 Nebraska (42-14) vs. #8 Kansas (35-26), 8 p.m.
Thu., May 22
Game 5: Losers Games 1 and 2, 10 a.m
Game 6: Losers Games 3 and 4, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Winners Games 1 and 2, 5 p.m.
Game 8: Winners Games 3 and 4, 8 p.m.
Fri., May 23
Game 9: Opponents TBD, 4 p.m.
Game 10: Opponents TBD, 7 p.m.
Sat., May 24
Game 11: Opponents TBD, 10 a.m. (Fox Sports Net)
Game 12: Opponents TBD, 1 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)
Game 13: (If necessary), 5 p.m.
Game 14: (If necessary), 7 or 8 p.m.
Sun., May 25
Game 13, 14 or 15: Tournament championship, 1 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)