Sloppy start puts OU on the brink

Sooners can't string together hits on opening day of Big 12 Tournament

Tulsa – If Oklahoma was looking for the right kind of start to spark a winning streak that would eventually lead to a Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, then the words sloppy and stagnant probably shouldn’t have been included.

The Sooners had a healthy dose of both to start Wednesday’s tournament opener against Kansas State. Starter Jake Elliott, who hasn’t been a part of a victory in almost a month, lasted just two innings, and Oklahoma had back-to-back runners reach base just one time all game.

The result was predictable: A 7-3 defeat that put the Sooners just one more loss from the end of the season.

“We’ve gotta figure out a way to do it,” Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said. “It’s not gonna be the most conventional or the easiest path to get this done. Nonetheless, there is a way for us to do it. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve gotta put our heads down and play well (Thursday).”

Oklahoma, which has lost four straight, will play West Virginia at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in an elimination game.

The Sooners (32-26) will need a far more consistent effort – and now a big swing of luck – in order to avoid missing back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 1981.

“The one strength our program has that should come through in a tournament setting is the depth of our pitching,” Hughes said. “I would rather have seen that on championship Sunday. Now we’re going to have to see that play to our advantage through the losers’ bracket.”

Elliott, who was last on the mound for a victory on April 24, allowed a lead-off base runner in each of the first two innings and should have left the game in an even bigger hole if not for a pick-off by catcher Anthony Hermelyn and an out at home on a nice throw by center fielder Craig Aikin.

Even when relief pitcher Adam Choplick, who allowed just one earned run through 4 1/3 innings, gave the Sooners a chance to rally, Oklahoma did nothing with it.

The third-seeded Sooners never had more than two runners on base in any inning before the sixth – despite a lead-off double by Hunter Haley in the fifth.

“We just couldn’t get any hits strung together,” Oklahoma right fielder Taylor Alspaugh said. “We had nine or 10 overall – as many as them. We just couldn’t get them strung together. That happens some days. You hate to have it happen in this kind of atmosphere, but it happens.”

While Kansas State had four runners on base in three different innings, the third-seeded Sooners had more than two on just twice.

Oklahoma’s only offense came on the long ball. Hermelyn and Alspaugh sandwiched an out with a pair of home runs in the sixth. Shortstop Sheldon Neuse and second baseman Kolbey Carpenter, both named to the All-Big 12 first team, went 0-for-7.

The Sooners, who finished with one more hit than the Wildcats, were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. No. 6 Kansas State (27-28) scored a pair of two-out runs after Oklahoma’s biggest inning to seal a game that was nearly sown up before the Sooners went once through their batting order.

“They just came out ready to play. Not that we didn’t, they just came out and executed with runners in scoring position,” Hermelyn said. “They played their game. We just didn’t play well overall (Wednesday) – not defensively, not offensively. We didn’t pitch it that well. They took advantage of it.”

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