The No. 11 Sooners live to fight another day after defeating the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers 10-7 in the second game of the Super Regional round in Charlottesville, Va. The victory forces a winner-take-all third game Monday.
The Sooners tried avoiding getting into an early hole for the second day in a row, but they couldn't as junior pitcher Zach Neal struggled in his second playoff start. Neal allowed two RBI-doubles in the first inning, and avoided more damage by throwing out a runner trying to stretch a double into a triple with two outs.
However, the early deficit didn't faze OU, a team who came into the game with 26 come-from-behind victories. The Sooners struck for four runs in the first inning to take a 4-2 lead, with the crushing blow coming on a three-run homer by sophomore right fielder Cody Reine.
Virginia (51-13) rallied for two runs on sacrifice-flies after loading the bases with no outs in the fourth inning. Head coach Sonny Golloway had enough of Neal after allowing the Cavaliers to tie the game.
Neal's day ended by going three innings and allowing four runs. The start was his worst since the Big 12 Tournament against Baylor where he allowed five runs in three innings.
The Sooners backed Neal up in the bottom half of the third even though Neal's day was done. They plated two runs on an RBI single and RBI sacrifice-fly by sophomore shortstop Caleb Bushyhead and junior second baseman Danny Black, respectively, to take a 6-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Mayfield, who was OU's third starter at the end of the regular season, came in to hold down the fort in his first playoff appearance. Mayfield threw two scoreless innings while Reine added to the lead with a two-run homer in the fifth.
The homer was Reine's second of the game after going hitless in the series opener. Reine went 2-for-3 while driving in five runs Saturday.
Mayfield's only mistake came in the sixth inning as he started showing signs of fatigue. He gave up a three-run blast with two outs to junior left fielder Phil Gosselin to cut OU's advantage to 8-7.
The Sooners responded once again with a two-run homer by freshman left fielder Max White in the bottom of the sixth. White's homer gave OU the 10-7 lead and the two runs brought in were the last to be plated by either team.
The Cavaliers threatened in the seventh inning after getting two runners on with singles against Mayfield, but Erben ended the rally with a double play to end the inning. Erben retired six of the seven batters he faced to earn his fifth save of the season.
Mayfield earned the win, improving his record to 5-0.
The only negative coming out of the second game is that the Sooners still haven't gotten any production from two of their most important hitters, sophomore third baseman Garrett Buechele and sophomore first baseman Cameron Seitzer.
Even though Buechele reached base and scored twice, the two have been ineffective at the plate. They are still looking for their first hit after two games during Super Regional play.
The Sooners and Cavaliers will square off for the Charlottesville Super Regional title at 6 p.m. Monday. The winner will advance to the College World Series.
Junior pitcher Bobby Shore (9-4, 4.23 ERA) should be on the mound in Monday's decisive third game. He is coming off a season-best performance that earned him the honor of the Norman Regional's Most Outstanding Player.
Game one recap:
Two homers off junior pitcher Michael Rocha were all the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers needed to take the first game of a best-of-three series against the No. 11 Sooners in the Super Regional round. The Cavaliers defeated OU 3-2 in a Saturday pitching duel in Charlottesville, Va., and are one win from clinching a berth in the College World Series.
Virginia (51-12) got off to a good start when its leadoff hitter junior left fielder Phil Gosselin drove the third pitch he saw well over the left-center field wall to take a 1-0 lead.
But Rocha (7-2) wasn't rattled by the homer and settled down quickly. He retired the next three batters he faced in the first inning to prevent any further damage.
While Rocha was finding his groove, Virginia sophomore pitcher Danny Hultzen was making OU hitters look foolish at the plate with well-located fastballs and hard-breaking off-speed pitches. Hultzen (11-1) allowed three batters to reach base – two on singles and one on a walk – and struck out five through four innings before allowing the Sooners (47-16) to get on the scoreboard.
OU evened the score at 1-1 in the fifth inning on a two-out RBI single by sophomore center fielder Chris Ellison. The single should have been the third out of the inning, but freshman left fielder Max White, who was running from second, caused the third baseman to take his eye of the ball and allow the grounder to reach the outfield and White to score.
The Sooners tacked on another run in the sixth inning when White drove in sophomore catcher Tyler Ogle from second on a line-drive single to left field. The RBI gave OU a 2-1 lead, but it wasn't enough to put Virginia away.
Rocha created a jam in the bottom half of the sixth inning by allowing a leadoff double. He balked to move the tying run to third with no outs.
The balk seemed to rattle Rocha, and he made a mistake pitch on his next offering to junior right fielder Dan Grovatt. Grovatt crushed a no-doubt-about-it two-run homer over the right field fence on a two-seam fastball on the inner half of the plate to reclaim the lead.
Like in the first inning, Rocha set down the three batters following the homer, but he turned the ball over to senior relief pitcher Jeremy Erben with one out in the seventh inning to close out his day. Rocha ended the Super Regional start by going 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits and striking out six.
Erben took over with a runner on first, and two batters later he found himself in a tough situation with the bases loaded and the two-hole hitter coming to the plate. He forced sophomore second baseman Keith Werman to hit a weak grounder back to the mound to start the 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
Hultzen threw scoreless seventh and eighth innings to set up a save opportunity for junior closer Kevin Arico. The lefty threw 130 pitches in eight innings and gave up the two runs on six hits while striking out nine Sooners.
OU threatened in the ninth inning by getting two runners on base, but Arico struck out Ellison to record the final out and give the Cavaliers the 1-0 series lead. The save was Arico's 18th of the season.
The Sooners were then forced into an elimination game today, one that they needed to win and were successful in doing so in order to force a decisive, winner-take-all third game Monday if they want to advance to their first College World Series since 1995.