Extras Are OU's Friend Again

For the second night in a row the No. 11 Sooners escape regional play with a 7-6 victory in 10 innings, and this time they used it to defeat a team that has made four straight College World Series appearances, the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Sophomore left fielder Erik Ross, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and had 60 at-bats during the regular season, delivered in the 10th inning with an RBI ground-rule double to center field with the scored tied 6-6. The double was Ross' second extra base hit of the season.

"Luckily I got the pitch to hit, and I capitalized on it," he said.

And Ross' at-bat almost didn't happen. Because he's a bunt and pinch runner specialist, he usually doesn't get opportunities to hit during the late innings of close games, and Ross admitted he didn't expect to hit in the 10th.

"When I was on deck I actually peeked in the dugout a few times to see if someone would come get me because in their shoes I'm doing the same question like he's really going to let me hit," Ross said.

But the Sooners (46-15) shouldn't have needed late-innings heroics. They got out to a 4-0 lead through five innings, and got an excellent start out of junior pitcher Zach Neal.

OU put a run on the scoreboard in the third inning when sophomore center fielder Chris Ellison laid down a perfect safety squeeze to bring in junior designated hitter Ricky Eisenberg.

Then sophomore catcher Tyler Ogle took over.

He was already having a good day behind the plate by throwing out two base runners, but he made a bigger impact with his bat in the fourth and fifth innings. Ogle hit a solo homer to left-center field in the fourth and drove in two runs on a bases loaded single in the fifth.

While the Sooners were scoring runs, Neal was rolling. He struggled with control in the first two innings without giving up a run, and he recorded three straight one-two-three innings entering the sixth inning.

The Tar Heels (37-21) plated their first runs in the sixth inning when senior shortstop Ryan Graepel drove in two runs with a single up the middle that was deflected off Neal's pitching hand. Neal didn't sustain any injury after being hit by the ball even though he came into the game nursing an ankle injury.

Sophomore third baseman Garrett Buechele responded to North Carolina's two-run sixth by launching the first pitch of the seventh inning into the stratosphere to take the 5-2 advantage. The home run was his third in as many games and extended his team high to 16.

Neal got out of a jam in the bottom half of the seventh inning, but allowed a run in the eighth inning before the Sooners scored an insurance run in the ninth, handing the ball over to junior pitcher Ryan Duke.

In Neal's eight innings, he allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out 10 batters.

"I was able to get a couple strikeouts when I needed them," he said. "Overall it was just a team effort, and it's a big win for us."

But Duke couldn't hold the lead by blowing his first save opportunity of the season. He gave up three runs in the inning, and he was a strike away from earning another save before the Tar Heels made the most important play of the game up to that point.

Down 6-4 with two outs in the ninth, freshman right fielder Brian Goodwin hit a 1-2 offering into the right-centerfield gap to plate the tying run. Goodwin wound up on third on the hit, and he represented the game-winning run by standing 90 feet from home.

"I felt like I wanted to be the one at the plate with two outs," Goodwin said. "I felt really confident afterward that we would pull it out, but it just didn't happen."

Duke buckled down and stranded Goodwin on third by striking out the next batter, and he pitched a scoreless 10th inning after Ross' big hit in the top half of the inning.

The back-to-back extra innings victories to open the regional round were appropriate for the Sooners since one of the themes to their season was winning games with clutch hits during the final innings.

"You can't train anyone in the fall for this stuff because this is making me old in a hurry," Golloway said. "Sure, I think we would like to keep scoring and run away. Sure, we would like to make things easier in the end but we are playing in the NCAA tournament and nobody is going to lie down. They are going to fight to the end."

The Sooners are now just one win away from making the Super Regionals, and they will play the winner of today's 1 p.m. elimination game between the Tar Heels and the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. OU will take the field against the winner at 7 p.m.

Either junior pitcher Bobby Shore or freshman pitcher Jack Mayfield will start the game, but Golloway won't make his decision until shortly before the game.

"We'll just play it one inning at a time," Golloway said. "We don't even know for sure whom we're going to start; we have confidence in both right now."

Saturday's Scores

No. 4 Oral Roberts 9, No. 2 California 8

No. 1 OU 7, No. 3 North Carolina 6

California is eliminated

Sunday's Schedule

Game 5: No. 4 Oral Roberts v. No. 3 North Carolina, 1 p.m.

Game 6: No. 1 OU v. Winner of Game 5, 7 p.m.

Monday's Schedule

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

*All rankings are based on regional seeding


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