Big 12 Tourney: Keys to a Long Run

NORMAN, Okla. -- The No. 12 Sooners desperately need a successful showing at Redhawks Field this week in a last ditch effort to secure a regional host or at the very least to enter NCAA Regionals with any kind of momentum, and Sooners Illustrated now analyzes what they must do to make that happen.

1. Get an early lead in game one--They don't want to be playing behind the eight ball from the get-go against a team like Kansas State who beat them in a series earlier in the season. Instead, getting out on top would be a huge boost of confidence, and it would help OU potentially bury KSU by the middle stages. The Sooners are a superior team, and one of the ways to establish that in the other team's mind is by taking control in the first inning or two.

2. Timely hitting--The Sooners have simply been very inconsistent at this all year. They came out strong at the plate in their opening stretch, which included 16 straight victories. But the Sooners suffered through another stretch where they couldn't quite come through with crucial hits when they needed them. Lately, OU returned to its early season form, but in last weekend's series, it was back to the struggles, aside from third baseman Garrett Buechele. In championship baseball, it's even more important to get hits when they matter in order to manufacture runs.

3. Solid relief from the bullpen--Teams that make extended runs always seem to have mainstay guys in their bullpens. That means middle reliever Dillon Overton, reliever Tyson Seng and closer Ryan Duke, among others, all must be on their game. When called upon, these players have to come through. It's always a tremendous boost to starting pitchers if they know their game is secure when they exit. And that will be these guys' jobs, especially Duke, the OU all-time career saves leader. The Sooners need that Duke instead of the one who struggled in the ninth inning against Baylor the other day en route to a series loss.

4. Stars to rise to the occasion--Buechele has struggled some at times this year despite leading the Big 12 with 61 RBI's, hitting only .336 after hovering in the .400s for the first part of the season. But it's postseason, and now all that's out the window. As a captain, he could guide this team a long way with a healthy performance in Oklahoma City. Same for the other two captains, catcher Tyler Ogle and starting pitcher Michael Rocha. Of all starters, Ogle, a .344 hitter in 2011, has the second-highest slugging percentage for a regular OU starter at .568 with a club-high nine homers. And Rocha has rolled to a 10-3 record with a dazzling 1.82 ERA. These three All-Big 12 First Team honorees must carry the Sooners.

5. Limit the damage--There are some talented offensive players in this league, and they're going to find a way to string some hits together and score runs against the Sooners. But OU must keep the runs allowed to a minimum. Prevent the crooked number in the field, and the Sooner offense should be able to provide enough run production to win games.

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