OKLAHOMA CITY — For the last month, the Oklahoma baseball team has been trying to claw its way into an NCAA regional.
With a regional berth now all but solidified because of a strong finish to end the regular season, the Sooners won’t have to worry about their postseason fate this week at the Big 12 Tournament.
“This is probably the first time we’ve really been able to breathe a little sigh of relief,” said coach Sunny Golloway, whose Sooners open the double-elimination tournament at 9 a.m. on Wednesday against Oklahoma State at Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
“Our backs have been against the wall all year. Hopefully now our guys can come in and be loose.”
When the Sooners played in Bricktown two weeks ago, their postseason hopes were in doubt. The Cowboys beat OU 3-2 to clinch a Bedlam series victory, dropping the Sooners to 30-19 overall and fifth place in the Big 12.
But the following weekend, OU roared back to sweep second-ranked Baylor, which previously was 18-0 in the Big 12. Thanks to that stunning sweep, the Sooners rank 39th in the RPI, third best in the Big 12.
“I think we’re going to be a lock to be in the NCAA tournament,” Golloway said. “In conference tournaments, you’ve never been able to play yourself out of the NCAA tournament. You can only really play yourself into it.”
With their postseason fate secure, the Sooners now want to generate momentum going into a regional. That won’t be easy. In the Big 12 tournament opener, OU will square off against OSU left-hander Andrew Heaney, who was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday. Earlier this season, Heaney dominated the Sooners with a complete-game, three-hit shutout.
“He’s arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the country,” Golloway said.
To counter Heaney, Golloway said he plans to hold Friday night starter Jordan John and instead go with Dillon Overton on the mound. The left-handed sophomore lasted only a couple of innings in his first start against the Cowboys. But last week, Overton tossed a complete-game gem in a 1-0 loss to TCU.
“We’re going to roll Dillon out against Andrew, and it’ll make for a great matchup,” Golloway said. “From a coaching standpoint you want to pitch well, you want to play well this week before the NCAA tournament. But our players have made it real clear – they’ve been talking all week about getting here and trying to dog pile at The Brick, win a ring and win a conference tournament title.”