The Sooners (25-8, 5-5 Big 12) lost their last two games by giving up late inning runs. They gave up an eighth inning home run against Missouri to lose Sunday's series finale 12-11, and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch in the 10th inning Tuesday against Oklahoma State in a non-conference game.
They essentially gave those games away, head coach Sunny Golloway said.
Those two losses forced this weekend's series against the Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-18, 6-6 Big 12) in Lubbock, Texas, to be an important one outside of the reason it's a Big 12 series. Let's take a look at the other reasons why this series is important.
1) A losing streak is the last thing this team needs for its confidence: OU has lost three straight games just one time this season when it was swept by the Texas Longhorns at home two weeks ago. Also before these two losses, the Sooners had not lost two straight games. They would always bounce back from a loss with at least two victories. This team was always good at recovering from losses, and it even did so after being swept by Texas with three wins against TCU and Missouri. But the team is in a place they have not been once this season. The players' confidence and swagger is not at the level it was almost a month ago. The Sooners must get a win in the series opener with junior pitcher Zach Neal on the mound and come out of Lubbock with a series victory for both Big 12 standings and personal psyche.
2) OU needs to prove it can sweep a conference opponent: The Sooners have not come out of a Big 12 series with a sweep. They have had two opportunities to do so against Nebraska and Missouri when they won the first two games of each of those series. But OU couldn't close out the series with a victory in the finale. That fact will come back to haunt them as it did last season, and Golloway has already acknowledged his team won't have a shot of winning the conference if it doesn't start producing sweeps.
3) The Sooners must win their first Sunday game during Big 12 play: Even if they don't win each of the first two games of this series, Sunday has become a very important day for them. As mentioned earlier, OU has not won a Sunday game during conference play, and a big reason for that is it has not gotten quality starting pitching from any of its three starting pitchers. Senior pitcher J.R. Robinson didn't work out, freshman pitcher Ryan Gibson showed his inexperience, and the Sooners are in the early stages of their newest experiment. Senior pitcher Jeremy Erben is making his second start of the season Sunday after not earning a decision in his first one last Sunday. Erben is going to be the last Sunday starter, Golloway said, and hopefully he can be the missing component in solving OU's Sunday woes.
4) This could be a record weekend: You can't win games if you don't have a closer, and junior pitcher Ryan Duke has been racking up the saves this season. He's been perfect in his 10 save opportunities despite having a couple rough outings when he's brought in when the Sooners are either trailing or are tied. Duke was credited with the loss Tuesday against the Cowboys. But if the right hander with a dominating fastball and slider enters any of this weekend's games working with a lead, then he may have an opportunity to record multiple saves. Duke's next save will be the 27th of his career, and a second would tie the OU career saves record of 28. He could set the record if he closes out all three games, so keep an eye on what he does against Texas Tech.
The first game of the series, because it was pushed back by rain, is now slated for 3 p.m. Saturday. The Sooners will complete the doubleheader immediately following, closing the series at 1 p.m. Sunday.