Sooners Head to Austin on a High

NORMAN, Okla. – Not to sound overdramatic, but the No. 10 Sooners' weekend series against No. 4 Texas may make or break their post-season fate.

OU (30-11, 9-7 Big 12) is a borderline regional-host team and is still mathematically eligible for a conference title, but one bad conference weekend could ruin both of those goals.

And of course Texas (31-10, 13-5 Big 12) would be the team that would stand between the Sooners and what they're trying to accomplish.

The Longhorns have swept OU in each of the previous two seasons and have either swept or won every season series since 1998, which is something that junior shortstop Caleb Bushyhead calls a big motivating factor for this weekend in Austin.

"Knowing what they've done to us the past two years – man – it instills a lot of drive in myself," Bushyhead said. "And I'm sure it's the same way with my teammates. I mean, it is a big rivalry and a big game, and I think this is the year that we can turn that around."

The only way the Sooners are going to prevent another sweep and end this series slump against the hated rivals from south of the Red River is by getting past Texas' dominant pitching staff.

Like every year, the Longhorns boast one of the best pitching staffs in the country.

They have a 2.22 team ERA and are headlined by junior Taylor Jungmann, who is 9-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 80 2/3 innings.

He has started in 10 games this year, and the only game he wasn't credited with a victory was in a no decision that he allowed four hits in a nine-inning outing against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Longhorns won 1-0 in 15 innings.

The players know what's ahead of them this weekend, but those remaining from last year's squad remember what Texas pitchers did to them at L. Dale Mitchell Park a season ago.

The Longhorns didn't allow the Sooners to get on the scoreboard until the fourth inning of the series finale, allowed just 11 hits and struck out 28 batters.

That's not a bad weekend for any pitching staff at any level, and it's a kind of weekend that this year's team is looking to avoid.

"It's good college pitching," Bushyhead said. "It's what we want to face. We've faced other pitchers that have arms like them this year, too. We're capable of doing it."

No matter the past success, the rankings and the firepower the Longhorns will be bringing on the mound, head coach Sunny Golloway believes his squad is still the team to beat in the Big 12.

"The thing I think about last year is that we represented the Big 12 in Omaha," Golloway said. "We were the only program to do that in our conference. So, to me, we're still one of the teams to beat, and that's how we take the yard and that's how we play.

"We want to be the team that everybody is gaging against. We are the ones that have been to Omaha."

So, Golloway and his players are not afraid of a Longhorn squad that year-in and year-out has dominated the conference.

"We like our chances going in there," Golloway said. "We always do, but we really like our chances going in there.

The first pitch of the series is slated for 6 p.m. Friday in a potential pitching-duel classic between Jungmann and senior pitcher Michael Rocha (8-1, 1.19 ERA), and junior pitcher Burch Smith will take the mound in the series' second game, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

The final game will be at 1 p.m. Sunday. Golloway has not announced a starting pitcher yet, but it should be either senior righty Bobby Shore or freshman southpaw Dillon Overton.

Both pitchers threw in Tuesday's 7-4 victory over Texas Christian.

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