Pitching staff shines for OU

Sooners take on top-ranked teams with a group of improving arms

It was always the hope that by the time the Big 12 Conference season started for Oklahoma’s baseball team that last year’s myriad of troubles would be left ehind in last season’s .500 performance.

If this past weekend’s series win against No. 10 Texas Tech doesn’t make it blatantly obvious that this year’s Sooners are different, then Oklahoma has an even better chance Tuesday against No. 4 TCU – in a rare non-conference matchup against a conference opponent.

“It’s a good way to start conference play, especially at home,” Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said to reports after Oklahoma’s series-clinching victory against Texas Tech. “Hopefully, that’ll keep people coming out and get the place a little louder.”

The Oklahoma fan base can’t come out to L. Dale Mitchell Park until March 31, but the Sooners (17-9, 2-1 Big 12) are right back in action after just one day off before a non-conference, mid-week game against TCU, which had won eight straight games before losing two-of-three last weekend against Oklahoma State.

TCU (17-4) is in the middle of a run of 11-straight home games.

Pitching continues to be a surprise strength for the Sooners. Alec Hansen threw Oklahoma’s first complete game in almost two years Saturday, striking out 10 batters and touching 101 mph on the radar gun. Robert Tasin pitched more than five innings in relief in the Sooners’ Sunday afternoon clincher.

“He won the game for us,” Hughes said of Tasin after the game. “There’s always that one inning that sort of dictates the game, and you just don’t know what it is. Sure enough, it was the first inning. . . . Robert comes in with bases loaded, no outs, 1-0, and I told him, ‘don’t try to do too much. If you can damage control this thing, you let up one run, we come in and it’s, 2-0.’”

Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in strikeouts per game (9.27 per nine innings) and proved that number wasn’t a non-conference fluke by striking out 31 in the three-game series against Texas Tech.

With the offense averaging just three runs per game over the weekend, Oklahoma would have been doomed last season – likely to a three-game sweep.

While the offense hasn’t been a complete slouch with second baseman Kolbey Carpenter being named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week after going 5-for-11 with a three-run home run in the second game, being able to lean on the pitching staff is the hallmark of a good program.

“That’s a really good team over there and (Texas Tech) is going to win a lot of games. I liked that it showed the depth of our program,” Hughes said of the series win. “. . . A lot of good things happened this weekend. It was a good character win.”

Of note: Lead-off hitter Craig Aikin, who leads the conference in runs scored, moved to the three-hole Saturday for the first time in his career. … Carpenter is slugging a team-high .604 with five home runs and 19 RBI. … Each of Oklahoma’s top five batters is hitting above .300. … Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in fewest strikeouts per game at a rate of 5.19 per game.

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