Sooners, ORU Set to Square Off

Head coach Sunny Golloway and three of his players – sophomore shortstop Caleb Bushyhead, senior pitcher Jeremy Erben and junior second baseman Danny Black – sat at a table during their pre-regional press conference looking as confident as ever.

And they have good reason to be.

Even though OU (44-15) didn't leave the Big 12 Tournament last weekend as champions, it won two of three games during the tournament and has won nine of its last 10.

Now the Sooners are taking their hot streak into a place where streaks are rewarded the best, the playoffs, and the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, California Golden Bears and North Carolina Tar Heels will be the first ones to feel the brunt of that streak.

OU will start its run toward its first College World Series appearance since 1995 at 1 p.m. Friday against Oral Roberts (35-25), where Golloway coached before starting his current stint as the Sooners' coach. Even though Golloway may reminisce about his days at Oral Roberts, he recognizes the game will be decided by the players rather than the personal history.

"[My history] doesn't really matter because when we're on the yard, our athletes compete against their athletes," Golloway said.

Senior pitcher Michael Rocha (7-1, 3.02 ERA) will be called upon to open the regional game against a Golden Eagles lineup that hit .325 this season.

Rocha has been the team's hottest pitcher and has posted back-to-back quality starts against Arkansas, who is hosting a regional, and Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. In those two starts, he has thrown 15 1/3 innings and has allowed three runs (two earned) while striking out 13 batters.

"We feel like it's a good matchup based on what we have scouted and the men that they are going to bring to the plate," Golloway said.

The rest of OU's weekend schedule isn't set in stone, though, because of the double-elimination format of the tournament. So, the Sooners will play either California (29-23) or North Carolina (36-20).

No matter whom they play, junior pitcher Zach Neal (8-3, 4.52 ERA) will be on the mound. He had a rocky outing against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament and has been nursing an ankle injury for the past two weeks, but as the team's ace he has earned the right to start game two.

The best matchup for Neal would probably be North Carolina, even though it may give the Sooners the toughest time this weekend.

The Tar Heels hit .286 and put the ball in play frequently. They have struck out just 216 times and have drawn 131 walks; both are lows out of the four teams.

But the thing that makes North Carolina very dangerous is it has a good recent history in the playoffs. The Tar Heels have reached the College World Series every year since 2006, but they haven't left as champions in any of those four appearances and failed to make the ACC tournament this season.

On the other hand, Neal could take his chances with a team who's good at the plate but hasn't had much success during postseason play.

The Bears have a .319 batting average and have driven in 345 runs despite striking out 341 times, but have only made the post season twice since the turn of the millennium and they haven't made the College World Series since 1992.

Either junior pitcher Bobby Shore (8-4, 4.52 ERA) or freshman pitcher Jack Mayfield (4-0, 2.03 ERA) will start the third game as long as OU hasn't been eliminated.

This is a winnable regional for the Sooners, and they are hoping to not have a repeat of last year's embarrassment against Arkansas twice in the regional round at home.

"For the guys back, it is another shot to get to Omaha," Erben said. "Last year, we were unfortunate to run into a hot team and Arkansas was playing well. We feel like we are the hot team now and that we are on that push to Omaha.

"We have our heads on right and we know what we have to do. We think it is going to be really hard for someone to come in and beat us twice at home, just because that really hasn't happened all year. We are just looking forward to tomorrow and getting the regional started."

Friday Schedule

Game 1: No. 4 Oral Roberts v. No. 1 OU, 1 p.m. Sooner Sports Network on Cox Ch. 3

Game 2: No. 3 North Carolina v. No. 2 California, 7 p.m.

Saturday Schedule

Game 3: Loser Game 1 v. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m.

Game 4: Winner Game 1 v. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.

Sunday Schedule

Game 5: Winner Game 3 v. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m.

Game 6: Winner Game 4 v. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.

Monday Schedule

Game 7 (if necessary): Same teams as Game 6, 7 p.m.

*All rankings are based on regional seeding

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