Oklahoma baseball: Sooners’ backs against wall in MCWS title series

Jun 25, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Ole Miss Rebels center fielder Justin Bench (8) runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Oklahoma Sooners during the eighth inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Ole Miss Rebels center fielder Justin Bench (8) runs the bases after hitting a home run against the Oklahoma Sooners during the eighth inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in this year’s Men’s College World Series, the Oklahoma baseball Sooners find themselves behind the eight ball.

After going 3-0 to advance to the MCWS championship series, the Sooners now find themselves having to win two straight games against a very good Ole Miss team that is poised to wrap things up Sunday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha on Sunday and walk away with its first national championship.

The bad news is that Oklahoma (45-23) looked like just a shell of its recent self in a 10-3 loss to Ole Miss in Game 1 of the championship series on Saturday. There wasn’t any phase of the Sooners’ performance that would have enabled them to come away with an all-important opening-game victory.

The good news is that the Sooners remain alive in their quest to bring home a third national title, but the task has clearly become difficult.


Saturday’s game started out innocently enough with OU starter Jake Bennett retiring the first two Rebels he faced, but a two-out single by three-hole hitter Tim Elko was followed by a wild pitch by Bennett allowing Elko to take second base, a single by Kevin Graham that scored Elko, another wild pitch and then Sooner shortstop Peyton Graham couldn’t come up with a ground ball by Kemp Alderman that enabled Graham to come home with the Rebels’ second run. All coming after two were out.

Before the Sooners even came to bat in the opening inning, they found themselves trailing in a game for the first time in the 2022 College World Series.

It appeared early that the Sooner ace Bennett was having command issues and that the Sooners were digging themselves a dangerous hole.

It didn’t get any better in the Rebels’ second at bat Bennett retired the first two Ole Miss batters on strikeouts before yielding a single to Calvin Harris on an 0-2 count, Bennett uncorked his third wild pitch of the game, which allowed Harris to take second. Then on a two-ball count Justin Bench, the Rebels’ leadoff hitter, singled through the right side of the infield scoring Harris to make it 3-0.

Elko greeted Bennett in the top of the third inning with a solo home-run blast just inside the right field foul pole to increase the Ole Miss advantage to 4-0.

Ole Miss sophomore right-hander Jack Dougherty was dominant on the mound, not allowing a hit through five full innings, despite coming into the game with a pedestrian 4-3 record and an earned-run average close to five runs a game. Nevertheless, he had the Sooners’ numbers on this night.

Dougherty ran into trouble in the Sooner sixth, though. Jackson Nicklaus and Sebastian Orduno opened the frame with back-to-back-singles. A throwing error by Rebel third baseman Garrett Wood allowed Nicklaus to score the first Oklahoma run. John Spikerman worked Dougherty for a walk, loading the bases, and that forced a pitching change as freshman Nichols entered in relief of Dougherty.

Nichols struck out both Peyton Graham and Blake Robertson swinging but walked Tanner Tredaway on five pitches scoring Orduno. Jimmy Crooks grounded out to end the inning, leaving three Sooners on base, but for the first time in the game, the OU offense had shown some life, and the deficit had been narrowed to a more manageable two runs.

As things turned out, however, there was no more comeback left in the Oklahoma attack, and any hopes of a late rally quickly ended in a four-run Ole Miss eighth inning, fueled by back-to-back-to-back home runs off of OU reliever Chazz Martinez by the eighth, ninth and leadoff hitters in the Ole Miss lineup. After that, it was turn out the lights and warm up the bus as far Game 1 was concerned.

Elko had four hits in five plate appearances for Ole Miss as the Rebels’ lineup roughed up five Oklahoma pitchers for 16 hits. On the Sooner side, Peyton Graham, who has been a standout for OU in the MCWS, struck out swing three times in four at bats. The Sooners were held to just five hits in the game.

Ole Miss was dominant in this game, but the Sooners contributed greatly to their own demise with shaky pitching, taking too many good pitches for strikes early in counts and uncharacteristic fielding miscues.

The Sooners now need to put all of this behind them. They experienced a similar meltdown in Game 2 of the Blacksburg Super Regional against Virginia Tech, but managed to put all that aside and come back in the deciding Game 3 with a strong offensive performance and brilliant pitching from freshman right-hander Cade Horton, who will face a similar challenge as the Sooner starter in Game 2 of the championship series on Sunday afternoon.

Will the Sooners have enough fight in them to grab the momentum that is plainly on the Ole Miss side and force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday. We’ll soon find out, because both teams will be back on the field just 16 hours after the end of Game 1.

The one thing that is patently apparent is that Oklahoma has to get off to a much better start than it did in Game 1 and return to the overall balance that got them to this championship point in the postseason.

Something else the Sooners can take to heart as they get up on Sunday and get set for Game 2 is that each of the past three national champions has lost the opening game of the MCWS championship series and rebounded to win it all.

There’s only one Oklahoma, and the time is now!