For the past month or so, Oklahoma has been lurking on the outskirts of the Big 12 Conference Championship picture. A small collection of players didn’t even know they had a shot at the title until last weekend’s series with Kansas State.
As the Sooners begin a series with No. 3 TCU at 6 p.m. tonight, school history is still in sight: A regular season and tournament championship sweep. That has to start with a sweep of one of the best teams in the country.
TCU needs just one win to lock up the title.
“It makes you want to show up to the park every day ready to go,” said shortstop Sheldon Neuse, recalling the end of last year’s disappointing season. “You know you have something to play for in the last series of the conference. We’re looking to gain some momentum going into the tournament. We’ve got a good shot to win that as well.”
Oklahoma (32-22, 12-8 Big 12), which was ranked in the top 25 this season, has won four of the last five Big 12 series. The Horned Frogs have also won four of five, but TCU (40-9, 15-5) has swept the last three.
A conference title isn’t the only thing on the line this weekend, though.
The Sooners will also likely need to win at least two games against TCU – or win the Big 12 Tournament – in order to make a regional. Oklahoma is currently ranked third in the conference but with an RPI ranked at No. 70 heading into the series, there are no guarantees.
“I don’t think you could say how important it is,” catcher Anthony Hermelyn said of this series on making the postseason. “. . .We need to get a couple RPI wins. You’ve got a chance to win the Big 12. You’ve got a chance to get some momentum and wins against a quality team. It’s really important.”
TCU has won six in a row, and it’ll be up to Jake Elliott to stop that streak and keep Oklahoma’s title – and postseason – hopes alive. He’s trying to take pressure off himself, saying that in the end, he’s just “playing a game.”
Elliott said he tries to relax, whether it’s against his own team or the Yankees, but against TCU and the Horned Frogs frontline starter Alex Young, who is 9-2 and boasts a 1.46 ERA, he’ll have to be on top of his game.
“You have to win the first one in order to win them all,” said Elliott, who has a 2.81 ERA this season and has struck out 75 batters this season. “It’s the same. If you want to win something, it’s usually easiest if you win the first one. . … It will take off some pressure knowing that we beat their best as well.”
The Sooners still have a bit of history to lean on this weekend. Early this season, TCU won the non-conference game between the two, but Oklahoma took it to extra innings. The Sooners can play with the Horned Frogs.
It’s not a surprise that Oklahoma has a shot at the title. Still, they’ll have to shock a few people to not watch TCU celebrate a title at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
“As a team, all we’ve done all year is just play with our heads down,” Neuse said. “We look up at the end of the conference and see where we’re at. We’ve put ourselves in a situation to go out and win the conference this weekend. I think we’re very capable of getting that done.”