By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
BATON ROUGE, La. – Oklahoma’s season ended in a torturous manner Saturday night. LSU just kept piling on runs and a crowd of over 11,000 at Alex Box Stadium reveled in every one of them.
The 11-1 loss that ended the Sooners’ season and sent the Tigers to College World Series showed just how rough it can be in the NCAA baseball tournament.
Unlike football or basketball, teams can earn the right play at home during the Regional tournaments and Super Regional series. LSU (57-9) certainly earned the right for its path to have the Super Regional at home.
The Sooners (43-21) knew winning two of three against the Tigers was going to be tough enough. But clearly, the atmosphere affected their play.
“This atmosphere is unbelievable. Right when you think you have the momentum, we throw one ball and the crowd goes crazy. They take a really good swing and miss, and the crowd goes crazy,” OU center fielder Max White said. “That’s easy for a ballplayer, especially in the game of baseball, to act on. We just couldn’t get over that hump. We’re a young ball club, but we have to keep getting better.”
White was one of three seniors in the lineup Saturday night. He’d been part of two other teams that had gone on the road for Super Regional series, winning one at Virginia in 2010.
The major difference between what transpired three years ago and what happened in Baton Rouge was that OU got incredibly hot three years ago and played with a lot of poise.
It’s easy to say poise was something the Sooners lacked Saturday night. They matched a season high with four errors and OU’s bullpen allowed seven runs on nine hits over the final 3 1/3 innings.
But the improvement OU needs to make isn’t in handling one of college baseball’s truly unique settings. The alteration it has to make going forward is to not put themselves in a position where it has to win two games on LSU's campus.
The poise the Sooners have to build is to play in March, April and May in the same manner it did in winning the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament Blacksburg Regional.
“I feel we really didn’t lose a chance to get to Omaha this weekend,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “I feel like we lost it when lost those midweek games to Dallas Baptist, Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington. If we’d won those five games, I don’t know if we would have been a national seed, but we probably could’ve hosted a regional and maybe we don’t get matched up with a team like LSU.”
It’s the second straight year OU received a first-hand lesson in how tough it is to earn a College World Series berth by beating an SEC team in its own ballpark.
Back in 2012, South Carolina communicated the exact same thing to OU.
Both Sooner teams shared a lot of the same players and, unfortunately, the same characteristics. In 2012, OU had to win a regional on the road and then ran into a buzz saw in the Super Regional series.
The Sooners had five first-year players in its lineup Saturday night, including four freshmen. They will have the same opportunities that OU’s last two teams had.
Advancing in the College World Series takes some breaks, but playing at home makes things a lot easier. You have to earn that right throughout the regular season.