OU Takes Two of Three Over the Weekend

This weekend did not end in a sweep, but the No. 11 baseball team has to be happy with its performance against the Missouri Tigers at L. Dale Mitchell Park.

The Sooners (25-7, 5-5 Big 12) took the first two games of the series behind excellent performances from their two starting pitchers, juniors Zach Neal and Bobby Shore, and timely hitting and defensive plays from their lesser-known players.

Neal (4-1, 4.70 ERA) continued his progression toward being the team's ace after having control issues and some rough outings at the beginning of the season by throwing a career high eight innings in OU's 6-4 victory. In those eight innings, he allowed three runs (two earned) on nine hits, struck out five batters and threw 124 pitches.

The right-handed product from Flower Mound High School should be on a three-game winning streak during conference play with how well he's been throwing the ball lately, but last weekend's downfall against Texas, run support, was not an issue against the Tigers.

Neal gave up a run in the first inning on well-placed hits by Missouri hitters, and the Sooners struck back with two runs in the bottom half of the first frame to take a lead they would not relinquish. The two runs were brought in on a single by freshman Jack Mayfield.

OU extended its lead to 3-1 in the third inning on a sacrifice fly sophomore first baseman Cameron Seitzer, and then put the game out of reach with a three-run seventh inning.

Junior pitcher Ryan Duke came in to work the ninth inning, but gave up a run even though he earned his 10th save of the season and 26th of his career. He is drawing closer to OU's career saves record of 28 saves set by Jeff Bajenaru between 1999 and 2000.

Saturday's game went by a similar script, but different players were given the roles of the protagonists in a 10-4 victory that secured the series victory for the Sooners.

Shore (5-1, 2.27 ERA), who is a regular name in the win column and quality start category for OU, had a very similar start to Neal's. Shore last seven innings and gave up two runs on nine hits, struck out six batters and threw 130 pitches.

Both pitchers had to go deep into their games and throw a lot of pitches because their usual setup reliever, senior pitcher Jeremy Erben, was making his first start of the season Sunday.

The game was close through the first three innings, and the Tigers were robbed of an opportunity to open the flood gates in the second inning when OU junior right fielder Rick Eisenberg made a nice catch on the run when Missouri senior first baseman/outfielder Aaron Senne drove a ball into the right-center field gap. The catch saved three runs from scoring.

Eisenberg contributed at the plate in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI-bunt single to tie the game at two-apiece before the Sooners struck for a pair of two-run homers from freshman second baseman Max White and sophomore left fielder Cody Reine in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively.

OU scored one run in the fifth and three in the eighth to give its pitchers a cushion to work with and wrap up the win.

The series finale went by a different tune, though, as the pitching dominance of the first two games were replaced by back-and-forth displays of power that amassed into a 12-11 series finale victory for the visiting Tigers.

Erben did not pitch poorly in his first start, but he looked fatigued after throwing 7 2/3 innings earlier in the week against TCU. He lasted 4 1/3 innings and gave up nine runs, all earned.

Many of the runs credited to Erben crossed the plate after he had turned the ball over to the bullpen a fifth inning that Missouri scored eight runs.

But the eighth inning did not kill the Sooners. They scored 10 runs between the fourth and sixth innings – five in the fourth, two in the fifth and three in the sixth – to tie the game 11-11.

The final blow, though, came by Senne, who was on a tear during the series entering his final at-bat in the eighth inning. He drove an 0-2 slider over the right field fence off senior pitcher Michael Rocha to take the one-run lead that OU could not come back from.

The loss was the second Sunday loss during Big 12 play that could have resulted in a series sweep for the Sooners. OU did not win the conference last season because it could not close out series like these, head coach Sunny Golloway said, and he hopes this loss doesn't come back to haunt them at the end of the season.

The Sooners now head out to Stillwater to take on Bedlam foe Oklahoma State to play in the first game on either team's campus since 1996. The one-game set is marked as a non-conference game because it is being played during the week.

The first pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and Golloway has not announced a starting pitcher yet. Rocha was scheduled to start, but he lost that role after giving up the eight-inning homer to Senne on Sunday.

OU won the season series 2-1 against the Cowboys last season, and was one of the series that the Sooners could not secure a sweep after winning the first two games. The two teams will meet in conference play in Tulsa and Oklahoma City between May 7 and May 9.


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