MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 14, 2013

Big 12 improves status; OSU likes bench strength


CNHI News Service

— NORMAN – After Sunday’s sweep-dodging 5-4 victory over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway looked on the bright side.

At the very least, his team had snapped a four-game losing streak – it’s longest of the season – and maintained a slim hope that it could still win the Big 12 Conference regular season-title.

The Sooners needed something positive to cling to. Where they finish in the conference standings is going to be critical as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned. For that matter, the Big 12 tournament, which begins May 22 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, will have a loud voice, too.

“I think we went from a one- or two-bid league early on because of our RPIs. I think we’re at five right now,” Golloway said Sunday. “With the Big 12 (tournament) and what happens the last weekend, we could get to six. I hope that’s what transpires. I think you’ll see a fifth or sixth place  team in our league go and win a regional somewhere – I really do.”

The Big 12 has finally moved up in the Ratings Percentage Index. Golloway’s prediction is a far cry from April, when OU was the only team in the RPI’s top 50.

Big 12 teams in the top 45 have always been considered safe bets for at-large berths to the NCAA tournament. The Sooners (35-16, 12-9 Big 12) are sitting right at No. 45 with four regular-season games left. They hosts Dallas Baptist at 6:30 p.m. today at L. Dale Mitchell Park. However, the three-game series at conference-leading Kansas State (37-15, 14-7) will have a huge hand in finalizing OU’s postseason resume.

The Wildcats are No. 22 in the RPI and the only conference team with a realistic chance to host an NCAA tournament regional. However, OSU moved up to No. 34 after winning the Bedlam series. A spot in the NCAA tournament should be secure.

 The Sooners are currently tied with West Virginia for second place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers took two of three from OU earlier this month.

However, reality has set in for OU. With as little as three weeks ago, the possibility was there for it to run away with the Big 12 title. Traditionally, a team usually runs away and hides from the rest of the pack in April. Losing three of the last four series – beating Texas Tech, but dropping two of three to Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State – had ramifications.

Even Golloway admitted the Sooners’ chance to host an NCAA tournament regional has gone away.

OU must sweep the Wildcats to win the league, but the Big 12 teams have also created an interesting dynamic because only Texas and Texas Tech have failed to gain any traction this season. Only four games separate the Wildcats from seventh-place TCU heading into the final weekend.

“You start getting into that mix deal where we beat them, but they beat us and who really deserves to go?” Golloway said. “That speaks to the depth. Let’s remember who is in last place in this league; it’s Texas if you don’t already know. That’s a pretty powerful program to be in last place. That says a lot for our league.”

– John Shinn



Bench proves

crucial for Cowboys


STILLWATER – Injuries are common place in sports. No matter how much conditioning and precaution is taken, it's going to happen – in any sport, at all levels.

In baseball, which differs from most sports seeing as somebody is typically throwing a ball at you sometimes upwards of 100 mph, that's sometimes more the case.

Fortunately for Oklahoma State, when injuries hit this weekend with one of the biggest series of the season on line – Bedlam – the depth of the Cowboys under first-year coach Josh Holliday were able to pick up the pieces.

“We’re only as strong as the guys on the team that are supporting and providing that type of energy off the bench,” Holliday said following Sunday’s 5-4 loss.

In each of the three games against Oklahoma, OSU got support from players that would be considered more of a supporting cast. On Friday, it was Gage Green filling in for injured catcher Victor Romero – and then coming up clutch again on Saturday with a steal of home that still had people talking on Sunday’s finale at Bricktown Ballpark.

One of Oklahoma State’s key cogs fought through an early injury during Saturday’s game but had to be supplanted in Sunday’s lineup.

Senior shortstop Randy McCurry had played in all but two games before sitting out Sunday – an injury that stemmed from getting hit by a 90-plus mph fastball from Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray. The trainers worked on his shoulder in the OSU dugout throughout Saturday’s game, which he played out, but he ultimately couldn’t go on Sunday.

“I don’t know too many people who could handle that,” said Craig McConaughy, McCurry’s replacement Sunday. “I was pretty impressed with Randy sticking it out the rest of that game. He’s a tough player, that’s for sure.”

– Jason Elmquist