This has been a rough week for the Oklahoma Sooners, who have watched their coach be admitted and released from the hospital for heart-related issues and lost three straight non-conference games – tying the longest losing streak of the season.
Now, the week ends with a Bedlam series for first place in the Big 12 Conference – and the shadow of a 22-run loss to Oklahoma State earlier this season still exists.
“We’ve gotta get playing good again,” said Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes, who told reporters Thursday that he is 100 percent healthy and even went on a recruiting trip this week. “This is the time to do it. … You can’t luck your way into winning and going to Omaha. You’ve gotta attack it and go after it.”
That’ll start against the Big 12 front-running No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys, who have beaten the Sooners six times in the last eight games between the rivals. It’ll have to start with a strong start on the arm of Friday night starter Jake Elliott, who has allowed just one earned run in his past three starts.
“We expect him to do the same thing,” Hughes said. “He’s a strike-thrower. . . . Hopefully, he can do that for us (Friday).”
The last week has been filled with sloppy play though for Oklahoma (29-19, 10-5), which is 1.5 games behind Oklahoma State and can take the conference lead with a series sweep.
Hughes didn’t watch the Sunday game live, but after watching the replay, he said he wished he hadn’t. Oklahoma then gave away an early six-run lead against Wichita State in this week’s non-conference game.
“I don’t think we’re due anything,” Oklahoma shortstop Sheldon Neuse said. “I think we have to go out and earn it. . . .I don’t think anything is going to just be given to us, especially in a big series like this. We have to go out and make it happen.”
Catcher Anthony Hermelyn said that he actually likes the neutral site games a little more than a normal home series. Hughes said that he would rather have a home series, citing that one of the two teams in the rivalry loses a true home series every year.
But Hughes, whose team will be the considered home team this season, could identify with the importance of the series, which is split in a pair of minor league ballparks. It provides a showcase for the state’s top two schools that he said will hopefully keep some of the top talent in the state.
It’s also still Bedlam.
“We’re going to go out and give everything we have,” Neuse said. “If they beat us with us giving our best, I’ll be very surprised. That’s the honest truth. They are going to go out and give their best. They think their best can beat our best. That’s what makes Bedlam so much fun.
“You’ve got two teams competing for first place in the conference. It should be a fun series and a fun weekend for everybody.”
It’ll be much more fun if Hughes can see the team in the dugout after the last time the Sooners and Cowboys squared off. In the aftermath of an embarrassing loss, Hughes said that he saw a team that he wanted: The right group of guys.
Right now, No. 25 Oklahoma isn’t exactly the same team. Neuse said that Oklahoma has been playing much better – and Hughes agreed – since that loss to Oklahoma State. The bump in the road this week came as unexpectedly as most hiccups do, but the Sooners didn’t lose any ground in the conference race.
The result in the aftermath of the Sooners’ previous loss to the Cowboys was helpful. Oklahoma is now hoping at that result on the scoreboard will be a little bit different, too.
“It’s a new nine innings,” Oklahoma center fielder Craig Aikin said. “There’s a new guy on the mound for both of its. It’s a new slate.”