OKLAHOMA CITY – Runs piled up around Oklahoma Sooners pitcher Dylan Grove, and he remained focused on his mechanics even with a big lead. Sooners’ coach Pete Hughes never felt comfortable enough with the big lead against Texas Tech, one of the nation’s best offenses, until he started playing for the 10-run rule.
After being shutout in the first game of the Big 12 Championship by West Virginia, the Sooners’ offense that averaged nearly nine runs per game over the last 11 games of the season has come to life with 30 hits and 30 runs in the last two wins – both elimination contests in which a loss would have ended the Sooners’ season.
The offense is clicking, but Oklahoma didn’t need the explosion in the 17-4 victory against the Red Raiders on Friday at Bricktown Ballpark.
It needed the seven-inning complete game from Grove, who gave Oklahoma a chance to rest its bullpen in preparation for a two-game day Saturday.
“There's always pressure with every elimination game,” said Grove, who allowed four runs and scattered seven hits while throwing 133 pitches. “You've got to play like it's your last game every day. That's what I did. I came out and I knew that I needed to go as long as I could to save the bullpen.
“We still had three more games to go before we take a rest so I just tried to go out there and minimize innings, minimize pitches and just try to work out of jams the best I could.”
Hughes won’t let his team think about winning the whole tournament. He wants them focused on one game. To him, one game has been the magic number for Oklahoma (30-26-1), which won 30 games for the second straight season and the twelfth time in thirteen years.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t know that Oklahoma had to win the Big 12 Championship in order to reach the NCAA Tournament, which it hadn’t reached under Hughes in three years.
“How do you win a tournament when you have to win a tournament to extend the season for your team?” Hughes said. “I’m thinking about making moves to win a tournament. . . . I’m trying to win a tournament and the best way for us to get in position to win a tournament is rest our bullpen for (Saturday) and go with one guy and end the game after 7. That’s how I played it from the fourth inning on.”
Oklahoma, which was swept by Texas Tech (41-16) in the regular season series, batted around in the third and fourth innings, putting up a combined 11 runs. Eight batters came to the plate in the fifth inning, totaling another four runs. All but one starter picked up at least two hits, and every batter reached base at least twice.
At one point, Hughes started playing small ball and trying to get just enough runs to get to the seventh inning with a 10-run lead to save his bullpen.
Grove didn’t travel to Texas Tech in the regular season, but he did all the work on the mound this time.
Now, Oklahoma has even more work to do starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“At that point, we know it's win or go home,” said Oklahoma outfielder Alex Wise, who drove in five RBI. “. . . We've got to compete every game and who knows what happens if we go out and play as hard as we can each game.”