Sooners Look to Get Back to Winning Ways

NORMAN, Okla. – The No. 10 Sooners' previous weekends have been touted as possible turn around weekends because they needed to not just get back to their winning ways but start back up the hit parade and establish themselves as one of the best teams in the Big 12.

Well, those two weekends didn't turn things around for OU. It went 2-3 in conference play – against Texas A&M at home and Missouri in a shortened series – and dominated the visiting St. Gregory's Cavaliers by plating 21 runs on 22 hits.

By losing three of their first five games during Big 12 play, the Sooners have fallen behind in the conference standings, which are led by the Aggies with a 5-1 conference record. And needless to say, OU views this weekend series against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at home as a must win.

"If we want to win a Big 12 title, we better have a sense of urgency this weekend," head coach Sunny Golloway said. "You can't let them get away. We've got to understand that every game's big and we can't let games slip away."

Not only is this weekend a must-win series, this could be a borderline must-sweep series.

The Sooners, who showed a better energy before Thursday's practice than they had shown at any point during the recent slump, need to make a statement and a comeback in the conference standings. Sweeping would send a big message to the rest of the conference and doing so at this point of the season would give OU more than enough time to claw its way back to the top.

Maybe the bats and Sooners will get back on that hot streak as the weather changes from last weekend's snowy conditions in Columbia to this weekend's predicted clear skies and the temperature reaching 80-plus degrees.

"We definitely missed [playing in baseball weather]," said junior designated hitter Evan Mistich, who is second in batting average among regular starters by hitting .382. "Going up to Missouri, it was cold up there. We're definitely glad to get back here and having some great weather. It'll be good for us."

While the weather is changing, OU's weekend rotation should remain the same. Senior pitchers Michael Rocha and Bobby Shore will be on the mound Friday and Saturday, and junior pitcher Burch Smith will close out the series with his usual Sunday start.

Rocha (6-0, 0.96 ERA) is coming off back-to-back victories that he has thrown into the ninth inning. He has struck out 18 batters, allowed one run and has walked one batter in those two conference wins.

A point for concern for the Sooners' bullpen is senior closer Ryan Duke's status.

He left Missouri with a tweaked throwing forearm because of throwing in the cold, but he threw a bullpen Thursday morning. Duke's availability for Friday's game is uncertain, Golloway said.

"We want him to come out early because we want to know going into [Thursday's] practice how he felt," he said. "He felt pretty good. So he's going to be able to hopefully rest it for the rest of the day and rest it [Friday} until the night game and let us know."

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Although Duke might not be able to go Friday, Golloway has high hopes that OU's career saves leader will be available to pitch Saturday.

"I think for sure by Saturday he's going to be good to go," he said. "If we need him on Friday and if he's ready to go is still yet to be determined."

The only major change will be at second. Freshman Drew Dahlberg should be making his first start at second as a Sooner, according to team SID Craig Moran.

Dahlberg played the majority of Sunday's game against St. Gregory's after starter Cale Ellis was pulled for misplaying a grounder that eventually led to a run and for not being productive at the plate. The freshman went 2-for-3 and drove in two runs.

Friday's matchup against the Red Raiders is slated for 6:30 p.m., and the final two games of the series are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.


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