OKLAHOMA CITY – All of the momentum that the Oklahoma Sooners brought into the Big 12 Championship didn’t slow trickle away or grind to a halt. It was stopped immediately – by an unfortunate event that should have helped Oklahoma.
Just one out into Wednesday’s tournament opener against West Virginia, right fielder Alex Wise was on third base and Mountaineers’ starting pitcher Michael Grove was heading to the dugout with a knee injury.
The arm that shutout the Sooners over more than eight innings a month ago couldn’t hurt them, and the Oklahoma offense that had averaged 8.8 runs over the final 11 games of the regular season had a great chance to stake an early lead in an almost certain must-win game.
It turned into more déjà vu than a stroke of good chance for Oklahoma.
Two outs later and Wise was still stranded on third base. Eight innings later and Oklahoma had recorded just one more hit, shut down by another Mountaineers’ reliever, as lefty Ross Vance didn’t allow a run over 8 2/3 innings.
Oklahoma had won eight of its last 11 but still needed a Big 12 championship title to make the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the first inning set the tone for a 6-0 loss, a much more difficult path to the title game and the evaporation of any regular-season momentum that the Sooners hoped would carry over to the postseason.
“It was opportunity lost for us and opportunity for them to get momentum back in their dugout,” Hughes said of the first inning. “It was a big swing in the game.”
No. 5 Oklahoma (28-26-1) will play in an elimination game at 9 a.m. Thursday against the loser between Texas Tech and Kansas State.
“It’s the same goal,” Wise said. “We still have to win the tournament. It’s just going to be a little more difficult now. We have a good group of guys who are going to come back, wake up a little bit earlier together and be ready to go from the beginning and not wait until the fifth or sixth inning. We have to be ready to go inning one (Thursday), all the way through nine.”
Oklahoma starter Jake Irvin worked out of a pair of early jams – striking out two with the bases loaded and escaping the third after the Sooners threw a runner out at the plate – and gave the Sooners its only other chance.
Ignoring the “book,” Hughes sent shortstop Sheldon Neuse home on a one-out, fourth-inning double by Cody Thomas. Neuse was thrown out by an almost-perfect relay throw, and the Sooners had just one more base runner in the final five innings.
“It was big. We’re trying to tie the game,” Hughes said. “. . . You make them make a play to tie the game. They made a play and threw us out.
“The book is you might hold him up there with one out. The book is for second-guessers. I could care less about that. That was a time in the game when we needed to tie the thing up and make them make a play.”
Irvin then allowed a pair of bunts for base hits and a three-run home run that took Oklahoma’s momentum completely to the West Virginia dugout.