Coming back with three victories, the final three of the trip, with the only losses coming to Arizona State and one-run loss to Washington State shows that the Sooners are strides away from where they were just a year ago – the first season under coach Pete Hughes.
They just would have loved one more win.
“I thought we’re definitely not happy as far as wins as losses, but as far as building toughness, team unity and learning how to grind, I thought we made major improvements,” Hughes said after the final game. “We saw a lot of guys play and play well and saw a lot of situations. We built our depth and built our bullpen, so I thought it was a pretty productive couple of days.”
Oklahoma (6-4) capped its second-straight tournament with a winning record. After opening the season with 10 games in 10 days, the Sooners will get a short rest before a home series against BYU this weekend.
Hughes always said that the first 10 games of the season were going to be a learning experience.
It has been a pretty successful experience as well. Without a five-run seventh inning against Arizona State and a three-run first against Washington State, the Sooners could be flying back to Norman with five wins. Oklahoma even had the game-tying run in scoring position in the ninth against Washington State.
Oklahoma had enough good performances as it continues to see players shine in the early season.
Sophomore right-hander Jake Elliott turned in his second impressive outing in as many attempts. He pitched Oklahoma to a 10-1 win against Washington, striking out seven and allowing just three hits. In two starts this season, he has pitched seven innings in each game. He has allowed just one run and has allowed just nine base runners (five hits and four walks). The only run came on a home run.
“I believe that’s what coach Hughes had in mind – having 10 games in the first 10 days – getting a lot of guys innings or just experience,” Elliott said before team left for the west coast. “That’s all that matters. . . . When it comes down to it, come May or June, everybody has experience. Everyone will be comfortable playing.”
After 15 pitchers saw action in the opening double-series against Notre Dame and Southern Illinois-Evansville, Hughes used 13 pitchers – including shortstop Sheldon Neuse to close out a win – in the five-game stretch this time. The Sooners have benefited in the bullpen from an influx of six junior college players. Five of those are pitchers who saw action at the tournament.
During the trip, Oklahoma allowed just 21 total runs against five-straight power conference opponents. The pitching staff got two great outings: One from Elliott and a second from sophomore Alec Hansen, who bounced back from a less-than-stellar first outing.
Hansen struck out 12 batters in just five innings, the most since Jonathan Gray in 2013.
“To him, it’s really pitch-to-pitch,” Hughes said of Hansen, who topped out at 98 mph. “He’s got to focus on the next pitch. It’s the most important. It seems so trivial, but that is where he goes mentally and seems to work for him. Coach (Jamie) Pinzino has done a great job to get him in that mindset and work on the mental part of the game, because we all know how good the stuff is.”
The offensive numbers weren’t the same as the first series, but highlighted by second baseman Kolbey Carpenter’s first career two-home run game in the finale against Utah, Oklahoma’s offense was efficient.
The Sooners grounded into just three doubles plays in five games, a major problem for the team last season. Even Neuse broke out of his first-tournament slump with a home run and a triple.