Confident Sooners ready for Heaney round two

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Sooners didn't fare so well the first time in their upcoming task.

Oklahoma State pitcher Andrew Heaney, fresh off receiving Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Tuesday at the Awards Luncheon, dominated them in a Bedlam series opening 3-0 victory for the Pokes back on May 4 at Tulsa's OneOK Field.

Heaney threw a complete game gem, allowing just three hits and four base runners all night, while striking out seven.

OU just never quite could figure him out, but in Wednesday's Big 12 Tournament opener, it'll have to do just that.

And early in the morning. It's not a matinee, but rather breakfast at the Brick, a 9 a.m. start between the two squads.

"By the time the game starts after getting out [there] maybe, so we'll be ready to go," said OU head coach Sunny Golloway. "So, sometimes you just want to show and go, and I think a 9 a.m. start will be good. We tried it the other way. We had batting practice. We had evening start. We had large crowd, and we still got shut out against Andrew. So, we'll try it a little different this time."

The hurler leads the conference with 132 strikeouts, 110.1 innings pitched, five complete games and three shutouts.

So, it's a mighty task for the Crimson and Cream, no doubt.

But the Sooners are playing perhaps their best ball of the season right now.

They recently swept a three-game set over Big 12 regular season champion Baylor and followed it up with a series victory against Samford, despite losing a midweek contest to TCU.

The Sooners banged out a season-high 13 runs in the regular season finale the other night, too.

That has placed them fairly securely inside the field of 64 regardless of what happens, a circumstance Golloway says plays well in their favor.

"Yeah, you know what? Our guys can come in and be loose and hopefully it'll make [us play better]," Golloway said. "Our back's been to the wall all year and this is probably the first time we've really been able to breathe a little sigh of relief."

And that's the motto he's preaching.

"I think for our guys we can't really get to a position where we can host," Golloway said. "You've never been able to play yourself out of the NCAA Tournament. You can only really play yourself into it, so you know what? Let's show up tomorrow morning. Let's be loose. Let's swing the bat and face arguably the best left hander in the country and it'll be a great challenge for our swingers."

Big picture, he'd like to see several things out of his club this week, regardless of the outcome in the Bedlam Big 12 opener and what transpires in the win-loss column over the next two to five days.

First, is great pitching. Second, he wants the offense to keep connecting in clutch situations.

But also, he wants the team to "play really well," meaning sound ball in the field, no base running mistakes, which cost the Sooners a few big innings last weekend, and plate discipline.

All of that could lead one piece of the pie the players have been striving towards.

"Our players make it real clear, they want to win a ring," Golloway said. "For the players, that's always the goal. You can win a ring through the regular season title. You can win a ring during the Big 12 Tournament Title and you can win a ring getting to Omaha.

"And so they understand one opportunity has passed them by, and they've been talking all week about getting here and trying to dog-pile at the Brick and win a ring and win a Big 12 Conference Tournament Title."

That'll be the goal.

Now, it's just time for them to go out and do it.

Sooners, Heaney is the first hurdle.

Golloway claims Big 12 is better than advertised

Only three Big 12 Teams have RPIs inside the Top 40 (Baylor is at No. 4, Texas A&M at No. 8 and OU at No. 39), but the Sooner head man still insists the conference is more competitive than it may seem.

"Well, I would argue it," Golloway said. "I would argue it for a long time. It's real simple. If we had the same teams, the same members here at this tournament, the only team that's not here is Nebraska. And that's the only team that was really vacant from our season because, you know, Colorado doesn't field a baseball team. So, when you think about it, they haven't made the Big 12 Tournament the last two years, so they couldn't have really helped our RPIs.

"They didn't have good enough years to qualify for the tournament and, you know, I think it's pretty disappointing to think that the perception is our league's down. It's not."

Why else isn't it down? Well, Heaney is an example of that, for starts.

"We have collectively the best group of pitchers in our league that we've ever had," Golloway said. "And I know this: Our pitching staff is as deep if not deeper than it's ever been. Rob Childress said the same thing about his Texas A&M club. Oklahoma State's got arguably the best left hander in the country. We're gonna have to face him."

The Sooner skipper even went so far as to make a prediction, quite a bold prediction.

Not only did he state that some teams from the Big 12 Conference would be tough outs in the NCAA Tournament, but he predicted at least a pair of those will make it to the pinnacle of college baseball.

"I will tell you this, it'll be an end result," Golloway said. I'm willing to--can't bet, NCAA--I'm willing to say that I think we'll have two teams go really deep if not all the way to Omaha out of our league. I really believe that. I believe the pitching is that strong that Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, you know, there could be a couple of teams make it all the way to Omaha. I wouldn't be surprised because of the pitching depth."

A postseason preference?

It's been well-documented lately the confidence Golloway has in his squad, but he further exhibited that Tuesday afternoon when speaking with the media.

Golloway pinpointed an opponent and location he desires to go to in the postseason.

Just so happens to be that team has won 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament games, a streak that dates back through the last year at Rosenblatt Stadium two years ago.

"When we were in Omaha in 2010, we didn't get a break in a 12- or 13-inning ball game or we might have eliminated South Carolina," Golloway said. "They've gone on to win two, back-to-back, national titles. We're the last team to defeat them in the NCAA Tournament. So, you know, I'm kinda hoping they'll send us to South Carolina. Nothing against Ray Tanner, but we're the last team to beat them in the NCAA Tournament."

Shots fired? Not really.

But overwhelming confidence? You bet.

And, oh, by the way, OU was one strike away from eliminating the Gamecocks that year.

Turns out, that game completely demonstrated the fragility of baseball.

A few pitches later, OU was heading to the locker room stomaching a heartbreaking 3-2 season-ending, extra-inning loss that saw the Crimson and Cream play its last ever game at the 'Blatt.

Why wouldn't that be an intriguing postseason matchup?

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