By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has made a complete turnaround in the last two days. The squad that looked dominant early in the season has re-emerged at the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners (38-19) rolled to their second straight tournament victory, thumping Texas Tech (25-30), 8-0, Friday, and improving to 2-0 in the event.
After three weeks of struggling, the team OU thought it would be surfaced. The mix of premier pitching and timely hitting was overwhelming to Baylor on Thursday and Texas Tech on Friday.
More importantly, the victories set up the Sooners’ meeting with Kansas State, which topped Baylor 13-9 Friday, at 12:30 p.m. today. The winner advances to Sunday’s championship game.
The only thing that can prevent OU from getting there is giving up runs. It still hasn’t allowed one in the Big 12 tournament.
Dillon Overton, Ralph Garza, Jr. and Kindle Ladd combined to shutout the Red Raiders (25-30) and the OU pitching staff’s scoreless-innings streak grew to 19, including Thursday’s 2-0 gem by Jonathan Gray against Baylor and the last inning of regular-season finale last Sunday at Kansas State.
Overton was the catalyst for Friday’s win. He threw like a potential first-round pick for the first time since April. The left-hander, who was shut down for two weeks after suffering elbow inflammation four weeks ago, was limited to 103 pitches and five innings. He gave up three hits and walked threw, but did strikeout five. When he got in jams, he pitched his way out of them.
“Coming off of an injury, it’s just like a ladder. You have to step up and get better each time you are going out and that’s what I am trying to do,” Overton said.
The pitcher also made the decision to turn to Garza easy.
“We tell our guys to tell us the truth; it’s important whether it’s an injury or if he was tired. He said he was pretty tired. It’s humid out there,” Golloway said. “Turning the ball over to Ralph in that situation made it a lot easier than had it been if Dillon went back out there and been selfish and maybe had a runner or two on. I thought Dillon was very mature and we’ve come to expect that from him and most all of our players.”
Garza and Ladd blanked Texas Tech over the last four innings.
OU only had a one-run lead when Overton went to the bench after the fifth inning. Colt Bickerstaff drove in the lone early run with an RBI single in the fourth inning. However, OU kept leaning on Texas Tech starting pitcher Dominic Moreno (3-4). The dam broke in the eighth inning. After the Red Raiders turned to reliever Dalton Brown, Hector Lorenzana greeted him with an RBI single and Anthony Hermelyn followed it up with a sacrifice fly.
The Sooners tacked on five more runs in the ninth inning to nail down their third straight victory.
“When you get momentum like that, it’s definitely going to help when you play Kansas State,” said center fielder Max White, who went 3 for 5 with a ninth-inning RBI. “We have to get those guys back. This game is mental and the momentum will help big-time.”
The Sooners’ winning streak began with a 7-3 victory over the Wildcats in the regular-season finale in Manhattan, Kan. However, the Wildcats won the series and secured the Big 12 regular-season title by winning the first two games of the series.
OU seemed like a more relaxed and confident team in the final game of the Kansas State series. That has carried over to the Big 12 tournament.
“We have a little chip on our shoulder,” Golloway said. “We want to get after it.”
One again, Friday, the Sooners did.