Sooners Prepare For Big 12 Tourney Pool

OKLAHOMA CITY – The No. 12 Sooners could barely be in a better position entering this week's Big 12 Tournament at Bricktown Ballpark.

They are riding a seven game winning streak and are coming off a road sweep against the Kansas Jayhawks. Now, OU gets a chance to build upon that momentum in the Big 12 Tournament with a chance to not only win the tournament title for the first time since 1997, but also help its chances of hosting a regional.

Let's take a look at the Sooners' guaranteed schedule for this week.

Kansas at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

The Sooners have become very familiar with Kansas. The two teams will be facing each other for the fourth time in less than a week, and OU may use last weekend's success to its advantage.

"[The players are] also going to remember the success they had," head coach Sunny Golloway said. "There's no reason for us to have any fear going into it; just concern [that] we play well, and that's what we're going to do. We've never at Oklahoma overlooked our opponent. We've never disrespected our opponent. We've never disrespected the game, and we don't plan on starting now."

Even though the Sooners won all three games, two of those victories came with ninth-inning heroics. Either of those games could have gone in Kansas' favor, so it's not like OU dominated the series.

Like the final two games, the two teams' tournament opener should be a close one, and it'll be junior pitcher Michael Rocha's job to make sure the Sooners are on the positive side of a close game.

Rocha will be making his second start in over a week. He allowed one run on six hits in 7 1/3 innings in OU's 5-2 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks on May 18, and his performance earned him the start against Kansas.

Rocha needs to have a quality outing so the Sooners can get off on the right foot to start the tournament and keep the bullpen fresh for the remaining two guaranteed games. If he can do his job and gets offensive support Wednesday, then a lot of pressure will be taken off the remaining two starting pitchers for Friday and Saturday.

Baylor at 7:30 p.m. Friday

Head coach Sunny Golloway called Baylor the most underrated team in the Big 12, and the Bears may be the team the Sooners have to do extra game planning for.

OU won the only full meeting between the two teams this season before a snow storm in Norman cancelled the final two games of the mid-March series. So, the Sooners have not seen the Bears enough in person to get a full understanding of how to game plan against them.

Baylor plays its first game at 4 p.m. Wednesday, which gives OU a chance to scout the Bears' hitters. Golloway will be in attendance for the game to get an idea of how to approach the individual hitters, he said.

Golloway will most likely have junior pitcher Zach Neal, who is starting Friday, come with him to the game.

"I don't usually scout too much, but I call the pitches for our team and I need to see their hitters one more time," Golloway said. "They're the only hitters on our side of the bracket we're not very familiar with, and I've got to get familiar with them."

Neal was roughed up in his only career outing against the Bears. He lasted two innings and gave up three runs on four hits, but he has been throwing a lot better since that start.

Neal needs to have another good outing because no matter how the first game ends, win or loss, the Sooners need to enter the final one on a good note.

Kansas State at 4 p.m. Saturday

OU won two of three games against the Wildcats when they visited Norman at the end of April and beginning of May, and the game will be decided on whether the Sooners enter it on a high note or low note.

Golloway hasn't announced a starter for the third game, but the choices are down to junior pitcher Bobby Shore and freshman pitcher Jack Mayfield. Both pitchers have come through for the Sooners following a loss, but Kansas State will be hard to beat if it is coming into the game following a victory.

Each of the three games against the Wildcats were high-scoring affairs, and this game shouldn't be much different because neither team will be throwing its ace and the ballpark should play in the hitters' favor if the weather doesn't impact playing conditions.

Shore and Mayfield are both coming off rocky starts against Kansas, so there are doubts in whichever pitcher Golloway goes with. Still, this game will be determined by whoever's offense shows up Saturday.

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