Oklahoma baseball: Sooners on doorstep of an unbelievable season

Jun 22, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; The Oklahoma Sooners celebrate the win against the Texas A&M Aggies at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 22, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; The Oklahoma Sooners celebrate the win against the Texas A&M Aggies at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

It began with 64 teams, then 16 were left, then eight, and now it’s down to three teams remaining in the 2022 NCAA Baseball Championship, and Oklahoma baseball is one of the final two teams that will battle it out for the national championship beginning on Saturday.

By virtue of their 5-1 victory over Texas A&M on Thursday in the semifinal round of the Men’s College World Series, the Sooners improved to 3-0 in the MCWS and punched their ticket to the best-of-three championship series against either Arkansas or Ole Miss, who will meet in an elimination game on Thursday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is the third time in 11 College World Series appearances that Oklahoma has won its first three games. Historically, that is significant because the previous two times the Sooners started 3-0 in the MCWS (1951 and 1994) they finished the job with a national championship trophy in hand.

Considering that Oklahoma was just 18-12 in mid-April and had lost its first two Big 12 series, no one was thinking this same Sooner team would find itself in the College World Series two months later, let alone one of the final two teams playing for the national championship. Since then, the Sooners have engineered a remarkable turnaround, winning 27 of their next 37 games.

No one saw this coming, and I’m pretty confident in saying that there weren’t many who thought Oklahoma would be one of the final two teams standing at this stage of the MCWS.

The bracket pairings didn’t even line up that favorably for the Sooners. The OU side of the bracket featured two of the hottest teams in college baseball in Texas A&M, who came to Omaha as the fifth-ranked team in the nation and the second highest seed remaining in the NCAA Championship.

The other two teams in that side of the bracket were No. 9 Texas, which beat the Sooners in two of three games in the regular season but lost to OU in the Big 12 postseason tournament, and Notre Dame, which eliminated No. 1 Tennessee in the Knoxville Super Regional to advance to the MCWS.

With only three national seeds among the eight remaining NCAA Championship teams, some in the media were calling this year’s MCWS as a predominantly David vs. Goliath series, and you can be sure that the Sooners were looked upon as one of the Davids. Texas A&M was the last of the so-called Goliaths to be eliminated, and Oklahoma took down the Aggies twice in convincing fashion.

In Friday’s opening game of the MCWS, the Sooners did it with power and timely situational hitting. In Wednesday afternoon’s rematch, OU did it with pitching and by grabbing the lead early in the game. It is fitting perhaps that it was a guy named David (Sandlin), who shut down the potent A&M lineup, registering a career-high 12 strikeouts and allowing just a single run on five hits, to send the Sooners to the championship series.

The two Notre Dame wins bookended another brilliant performance by an Oklahoma starting pitcher. Freshman Cade Horton went six strong innings in leading the Sooners to a 6-2 win over the Giant Killer Fighting Irish, silencing the Notre Dame hitters to just two runs on five hits aided by a career-high 11 punch outs.

It has been the Sooners’ sizzling bats — and with contribution from the entire starting lineup — that has primarily fueled Oklahoma’s impressive second half of the season. But in the College World Series, in particular, it has been the pitching of OU’s three starters — Jake Bennett, Horton and Sandlin — as well as the finishing touch of closer Trevin Michael that has made the biggest difference in OU ascendancy this season to center stage in the college softball world.

What is also highly encouraging about this group of Sooners and their remarkable accomplishments this season is that it is a very young team. There is only one senior (center fielder Tanner Tredaway in the starting lineup. Eight of the nine OU players in the starting lineup against Texas A&M on Wednesday and throughout the MCWS are either freshmen or sophomores.

All of that portends a highly promising future for Oklahoma baseball the next few years.

Because Sandlin was able to go deep in the game and OU was able to avoid having to play an “if necessary” elimination game against Texas A&M. head coach Skip Johnson will have his top two starters rested and ready to go in the first two games of the championship series.

"“It’s huge the OU skipper said in the postgame interview session after the win on Wednesday. “Now (Jake) Bennett can go on a full week’s rest…Then (Cade) Horton will have a full game’s rest going into his outing, probably the second game.“Then will just get a cowboy hat and pull names out of it after that and go from there.”"

Here are a few other factors that could play in Oklahoma’s favor whether they face Arkansas or Ole Miss in the championship series:

  • Several Sooners have double-digit hitting streaks going: Peyton Graham and Tanner Tredaway both have active 17-game hitting streaks. Jimmy Crooks has reached base successfully in 24 straight games and John Spikerman in 21 consecutive games.
  • Oklahoma’s 77 home runs this season are the team’s most since the 2010 OU College World Series team hit 105.
  • OU is 9-4 in two NCAA postseason appearances under head coach Skip Johnson.
  • The Sooners are 28-8 this season when hitting at least one home run, 28-6 when they score first and 12-5 when they score in the first inning.
  • Oklahoma has won 13 of its last 15 games, including going 8-2 in the NCAA postseason.