Four Reasons OU Finished Second

The No. 15 Sooners just accomplished the top priority it has been seeking for the past few weeks, finishing second place in the Big 12. They swept the Kansas Jayhawks on the road, but the second seed was not just obtained because of what was done this weekend.

Here are some other important factors in why OU finished in second place:

1. The Sooners won seven of their nine conference series— This one is obvious, but it has to be mentioned. Even though OU had just one sweep during conference play, the fact that it consistently won two of three games on weekends since the middle of March cannot be stressed enough. Texas was able to easily win the Big 12 regular season title by sweeping five straight conference series, starting with its series against the Sooners, but OU did the next best thing by only dropping one game during most series. If it had lost one or two of those series that were decided by a one-run or come-from-behind victory, then the Sooners may not be sitting in second and have may have a harder road to the conference title game.

2. Zach Neal threw like an ace at the right time—The junior right-handed transfer from Howard College struggled when he first donned the Crimson and Cream. He had trouble finding the strike zone, he had an ERA over five and was bailed out multiple times by a good bullpen and an offense that knew how to score runs. Neal should have entered his first Big 12 start with at least a couple losses, but his record was unblemished. He made his first conference start on March 19 against Baylor and struggled. Neal lasted just two innings, but head coach Sunny Golloway stuck with him as the Friday night starter for the next week against Nebraska. That's when things turned around for Neal. He struck out 10 Cornhuskers, and never looked back. Neal ended his first, and probably his last, season in the Big 12 with a 6-1 record, 3.43 ERA and 47 strikeouts. Batters had trouble making hard contact against Neal, and he always put his team in a situation to win. If he didn't heat up, then OU probably would have ended the season in the middle of the pack without a prayer in the Big 12 Tournament.

3. Youth led—The biggest bats in the lineup throughout the season were sophomore third baseman Garrett Buechele, sophomore first baseman Cameron Seitzer and freshman left fielder Max White. The three hit well over .300 during the season, and of the three, Buechele was the only one to hit very near the .400 mark – he hit .383 with four homers and 23 RBIs – during conference play, but the other two made up for their lack of average with high production and clutch hitting. White led the team with nine home runs and 28 RBIs during conference play, and one of his best attributes was using the long ball to ignite an at-times stagnant offense. Seitzer hit just .284, but had four homers and 17 RBIs, but he drove balls over the fence and runners in when they meant the most. He had multiple game-winning home runs and extra base hits during conference play or helped start rallies. Other than those three, the Sooners got good production from young players such as sophomore right fielder Cody Reine, sophomore center fielder Chris Ellison and sophomore shortstop Caleb Bushyhead.

4. Two games against Baylor were cancelled—Even though these two games could be seen as a tool to have sealed second place earlier than the last day of the season, there's a good chance they could have hurt OU more than they could have helped it. The Sooners were trailing 5-0 in the third inning of the second game of the series before snow hit Norman to cancel the final two games. They probably would have lost that game based on the score and the way they were playing, and since the game was the first of a double header, Baylor's momentum may have carried the Bears to a second victory. Even though the two losses wouldn't have dropped the Sooners from the second seed, they may have caused more losses and damaged the team's momentum and confidence. Plus, the two makeup games OU did play helped it have more than 40 wins and a better case for hosting a regional.

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