Sooners riding wave at right time

NORMAN, Okla. — This isn't exactly the way the Sooners drew it up.

They were supposed to roll through the Big 12 this year and take the regular season crown.

They were supposed to host a regional.

They were supposed to be one of the serious contenders for Omaha from the very beginning.

Well, the good news is considering all that's transpired, the latter is a very real possibility.

Winner's of five straight and Big 12 Tournament Champions after a rugged 2-9 stretch, head coach Sunny Golloway's Sooners are once again peaking at the right time for a serious run.

"Yeah, playing really good baseball, really good baseball right now," Golloway said. "And we're playing inspired."

Perhaps because they could let loose after realizing the luxury they have in playing baseball.

p>The Moore Tornado that ripped through last week gave them that perspective.

"I was thinking in past interviews that, you know, this tornado that's come through has kinda wiped out our mindset of all the bad luck that's happened with the season, all the bad breaks," said center fielder Max White.

It's also given them a will to fight for something more.

"They're inspiring each other, their community has inspired them," Golloway said. "Hopefully they've inspired their community, and we weren't a bad baseball team and I kept saying that. We just were a pretty good baseball team not getting breaks and we're not really getting breaks right now. We're just playing tremendous baseball and very inspired."

Maybe the fact that they seem to be getting the breaks now stems from the fact they simply stopped thinking and started playing naturally behind that inspiration, but some other things can't be ignored.

Golloway moved Craig Aikin to left, White back to his natural spot at center and allowed catcher Anthony Hermelyn to call pitches.

"We've gotten out of the way," Golloway said. "We've told them we're going to get out of the way. We're gonna let Hermelyn call pitches. We'll make the decisions of who should be on the mound at a particular team and when we should hit and run or bunt, steal, but other than that it's your game. And since we've done that, our players have really taken ownership, even the young guys. And they have a sense of freedom and they're playing inspired."

Aikin has found comfort in left and, in turn, relaxed more at the plate.

White has settled in just fine anchoring the outfield, and Hermelyn has come of age and developed a rapport with his starting pitchers through taking more responsibility.

Oh, and speaking of starting pitchers, ace Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton have reverted to early season form and become the one-two punch everyone expected early on.

Gray dominated en route to earning Big 12 Tournament MVP, and Overton finally appears mostly healthy after suffering from a strained forearm for so long.

The two look like they can both go out and dominate a couple games like they were supposed to all year.

"The chances are so much better whenever you have a good one-two," Gray said. "And even the bullpen behind us has been great, especially this last [week] in the tournament and everything like that they've had our back. Whenever we've needed them to go out there and give us three or four innings, they have. And we threw up a lot of zeroes, and we're gonna keep that going."

Their current five-game winning streak dates back to a series salvaging victory at Kansas State 12 days ago.

Before that, though, the Sooners had a bit of a come to Jesus meeting on the bus.

The team got together, demanded changes from each other and they haven't lost since.

"After that loss, I think something special happened on the bus as a team," said second baseman Hector Lorenzana. "And it's been helping ever since that game. So, I mean, it's gonna push forward and our goal is to get to Omaha."

They're two weekends away, if they hope to get back there for the first time since 2010.

And that will require at least five wins, maybe more.

But the good news is they're peaking, and perhaps the best is even still to come.

"Every year we always hit that one stride and this year was a little later than the past couple years," said shortstop Jack Mayfield. "But, you know, you can't pick a better time than right now going into regionals. So, everyone's playing good. Our defense is doing good. We've turned a lot of double plays, and our pitching is coming around. We scored those runs, so we're on the right side of things and we're looking forward to it."

They'll open up regional play with a 12 p.m. CT contest against Coastal Carolina in Blacksburg, Va.

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