Buechele's Blast, Duke's Save Lifts Sooners

Omaha, Neb.—The Sooners got insurance in the eighth inning off a homer by third baseman Garrett Buechele, and they needed every bit of that run in holding off the South Carolina Gamecocks for a 4-3 opening round victory in a game that lasted well over nine hours real time at the College World Series Sunday at Rosenblatt Stadium.

"I thought Garrett's home run was really big," said OU head coach Sunny Golloway. "It reminded me of a Bedlam game—which is Oklahoma, Oklahoma State—earlier in the year. I keep saying the Big 12 prepares us for postseason. And he hit a two run, I believe, shot there, and it gave us a three run margin. At that point, we needed every one of those runs at that time."

After Buechele supplied OU with a 4-2 advantage with his towering shot just under the scoreboard in left, things got dicey in the top of the ninth.

Gamecock catcher Kyle Enders and pinch hitter Robert Beary hit back-to-back singles to force reliever Jeremy Erben out of the game, giving way to closer Ryan Duke.

But things weren't exactly smooth sailing for him either, as he walked a pair of batters, scoring Enders and bringing the tying run 90 feet away and the go-ahead run at second with two outs.

Duke, however, managed to get third baseman (who moved to second late in the game) Adrian Morales to fly out to center to end the game, helping to record his 12th save of the season, tying a school record.

"I was really glad to see we challenged there late with that fastball in," Golloway said. "And it was right where I was used to seeing it, and his teammates were used to seeing it earlier in the year."

Duke and Erben combined for a relief outing that allowed just one run over three innings, holding and saving starter Michael Rocha's victory.

Rocha went six complete, allowing two earned runs on five hits and three walks, and he also struck out two en route to becoming 8-2 after waiting 4:15 for his first pitch because of an extended rain delay.

"No, my pregame didn't change at all," Rocha said. "I never actually started warming up before the game. I have some actual experience with this. This would be my third rain delay to start. So I'm getting kind of used to it now. But everything stayed the same. After the second rain delay, we were just trying to stay in the game, trying to get through it quick."

The Sooners struck first when catcher Tyler Ogle shot a single into right field, plating center fielder Chris Ellison, in the bottom of the first.

But SC quickly battled back, as first baseman Christian Walker blasted a ball into the left center bleachers to tie it at one in the top of the second.

OU regained the lead at 2-1, though, when sophomore shortstop Caleb Bushyhead sent one over the right field wall in the bottom half of the second.

South Carolina tied it up again in the top of the fourth on the game's third homer at the time, this one by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Then, for the second time, the Sooners scored in the bottom part of an inning the Gamecocks put one across in, as Bushyhead delivered his second RBI of the game on a single to put OU ahead 3-2.

A scoreless inning and a half then took place before the game's second rain delay, spanning 2:01, halted the game.

Erben came in relief for Rocha in the seventh, and after giving up a leadoff single, settled down to get three straight batters before running into some trouble in the eighth and ninth.

He went unscathed in the eighth when designated hitter Brady Thomas flew out to right.

The win improves OU's overall record to 50-16 on the season and moves them to the winner's bracket round against either the Clemson Tigers or Arizona State Sun Devils at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"But [it was a] hard fought contest, and I thought South Carolina was just as competitive," Golloway said. "We got some breaks. You have to play well,and you gotta get breaks this time of year. And what I mean by that, bases loaded, line drive right at Cody Reine, that was really big for us. We needed that ball to find a glove and it did. It could have gone the other way if it had not."

As it is, the Sooners managed to hang on, sending South Carolina to the loser's bracket where they will face the loser of Clemson-ASU on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

For more coverage on this game, check out the three keys for victory as well as a Bushyhead feature.

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