Aikin' no more

OKLAHOMA CITY — For the second straight year, the Sooners will have a chance to play for the Big 12 Championship, as they knocked off regular season champion Kansas State 7-6 in a wild extra-inning affair Saturday afternoon to advance to Sunday's winner-take-all.

After K-State twice scored to tie it late, center fielder Craig Aikin delivered the eventual game-winning hit, coming through with a two-out, RBI single over the third baseman's head in the top of the 11th.

"We have the exact same situation with Aik[in] and Craig does exactly what they do," said OU head coach Sunny Golloway. "You know, he drives a guy in at third with two outs."

Kyle Hayes then erased a bases-loaded, one out threat with a pair of strikeouts to pick up the save.

"Just exciting being out there, seeing both teams battle back and staying ready to pitch at the same time," Hayes said. "Running out there I was a little nervous. Once I got on the mound, I was fine. I just had to trust my stuff and just throw the ball hard and throw strikes."

He did, and so that puts them in a position to face No. 6 Kansas in Sunday's finale.

A stagnant offense this year that has produced ample amounts of runs in the Big 12 Tournament was once again the story today as it was yesterday.

The Sooners banged out a solid seven runs on 10 hits, despite getting outhit by seven by their K-State counterparts.

Third baseman Garrett Carey came through with a big knock, a bases-clearing double to right center in the top of the fourth that put OU up 4-0 at the time.

K-State ended a scoreless streak of 21 straight Big 12 Tourney innings by OU's pitching staff in the bottom of the fourth with a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.

But from there, Sooner pitching got back on track for most of the rest of the way.

Kindle Ladd, in relief of starter Jake Fisher, blanketed the Wildcats for four straight innings and seemingly was in control for his first victory of the season.

That is, until things broke down in the ninth.

A pair of runs charged to him on K-State left fielder Tanner Witt's RBI single and first baseman Shane Conlon's double smacked down the left field line brought the Wildcats to within 5-3.

Closer Jacob Evans couldn't seal the deal either, surrendering the big blow, which proved to be a game-tying two-run single up the middle off the bat of designated hitter Mitch Meyer, though center fielder Max White threw out the potential winning run at third.

"We knew Kansas State can swing the bat," Golloway said. "We knew they were gonna score runs, and we felt they were gonna make a run and they did. So, when they put the four runs up, there was disappointment in our dugout, but the fact that we threw the guy out at third base was huge to get off the field and get back in to score a run."

Just moments after K-State posted its four-spot in the ninth to erase a 5-1 OU lead, White used his momentum to paste a double off the left field wall and first baseman Matt Oberste brought him home with a go-ahead RBI single into center in the top of the 10th.

"It was big," White said of the victory his hit contributed in large part towards. "Staying composed through it all, especially like you said, there was disappointment. But we trust in our guys."

But K-State answered again with yet another two-out, game-tying hit, this time from second baseman Ross Kivett and off fourth Sooner pitcher Ralph Garza, Jr.

"I just think that it's a tremendous baseball game," Golloway said. "I think that that game should say an awful lot about Big 12 baseball, and I hope that it does."

Fisher finished with a no-decision following 3 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, but six hits and a walk.

Ladd also ended with a no-decision, distancing five innings with a pair of strikeouts to go around six hits, as did K-State starter Jordan Witcig, who had a line of 3 2/3 innings, three earned runs on three hits and two walks.

Catcher Anthony Hermelyn gave OU an early 1-0 lead in the top of the second on his sacrifice fly.

Carey finished with a pair of hits in five plate appearances for the Sooners, and White joined him there in extras.

Six Wildcats finished with multi-hit days, including Conlon, Kivett and Witt each with three, but still it wasn't enough.

The Sooners, who tumbled through a 2-9 stretch before salvaging the regular season finale against K-State in Manhattan, have now rattled off four straight for the first time since late March.

"Our guys are playing good baseball right now," Golloway said. "We're showing the mental toughness. I said this yesterday in here that what we've gone through in the Big 12—our conference is strong. I'm not lobbying for other teams. I'm just telling you our conference is very good, so we're a good baseball team that had to go to West Virginia. We had to play Bedlam on the road, and we had to finish at Kansas State.

"And we only got one out of three all three times, so everybody was wanting to know what was wrong with us and nothing has been wrong with us."

A victory in tomorrow's 1 p.m. CT championship against the Jayhawks would be the cherry on top and ensure OU a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but it has almost assuredly done enough now to have locked that up.

Evans will likely still go for the Sooners in what could be a pitching by committee outing.

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