NORMAN, Okla. – The University of Oklahoma baseball team left the bases loaded in the ninth as it dropped an 8-6, back-and-forth affair with Rutgers at L. Dale Mitchell Park on Sunday afternoon. The Sooners fell to 11-5 on the season, while the Scarlet Knights improved to 4-8.
Junior first baseman Mac James (New Braunfels, Texas) went 4-for-4 at the plate with three runs and one RBI for Oklahoma. He came to the plate with two runners on and just one out in the bottom of the ninth. Sophomore catcher Anthony Hermelyn (McKinney, Texas) singled and redshirt-junior right fielder Taylor Alspaugh (Broken Arrow, Okla.) was hit by a pitch. James was then carefully walked to load the bases in a two-run game.
Rutgers signaled to its bullpen for right-handed closer Jon Young. He worked quickly and got a pair of pop-flies to end the game for his third save of the season.
“You don’t want to play from behind too often,” started head coach Pete Hughes. “I do like our guys’ mindset when they’re behind. There’s no panic. You try to figure out a way to win a game, and I thought we put ourselves in a position to do that this last inning. You always want to get that winning run at the plate. We had it at first base with two really good hitters up, so I give our guys a lot of credit for battling, but we’ve got to stay out of those situations so you don’t have to learn lessons through playing from behind. I want to limit that as much as possible.”
Lefty Max Herrmann (1-0) claimed the win for the Scarlet Knights in three innings of relief. He gave up one run on two hits and three walks. The loss went to redshirt-senior RHP Drew Krittenbrink (Okarche, Okla.). Krittenbrink (0-1) allowed two runs on one hit and two walks in one inning of work.
The game got off to a fast start in the top of the first inning as RU plated three runs. The Scarlet Knights strung together four hits and were aided by a pair of OU errors. The Sooners responded with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Sophomore center fielder Craig Aikin (Coppell, Texas) led things off by placing a hit into shallow left-center and hustled all the way for a double. He would later score from third on a balk and Oklahoma would add another as Alspaugh hit a sac-fly to bring in junior second baseman Keach Ballard (Durant, Okla.), who singled earlier in the frame.
In the bottom of the second, senior shortstop Hector Lorenzana (San Diego, Calif.) picked up an RBI with two runners in scoring position and one out on a groundout to short to tie the game, 3-3.
Freshman right-hander Jake Elliott (Coppell, Texas) settled in after allowing three runs in the first. He lasted six innings and only allowed those three runs on seven hits and three walks. He left the game with a 5-3 lead as the Sooners were able to score twice in the sixth inning.
“I thought that was a pretty mature outing,” Hughes said of his starting pitcher. “For a kid to keep his composure—I’ve seen that type of inning spiral out of control with young kids on the mound. That’s why I took the timeout there and went out and spoke with him. I wanted to check with him. He was locked in, ready to make his next pitch and he put up zeroes all the way after that.”
James and sophomore left fielder Hunter Haley (Nacogdoches, Texas) set the table in the sixth with back-to-back singles. Freshman DH Niko Buentello (Lewisville, Texas) gave Oklahoma its first lead of the day with a base hit to right field and Lorenzana plated Haley on a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 5-3.
Rutgers responded by scoring three runs off sophomore left-handed reliever Jacob Evans (Broken Arrow, Okla.) in the visitor’s half of the seventh. With two outs in the home half, James belted his second home run of the season, a solo jack over the 385’ mark in left-center field to tie the game at six.
The Scarlet Knights continued to put runs on the OU bullpen in the eighth as they took the lead for good. An infield single by first baseman Brian O’Grady loaded the bases with just one out. Ballard, who had shifted to shortstop, came up with the ball cleanly in the hole, but had no play. Left fielder Vinny Zarrillo then added an infield single of his own to score the go-ahead run. Zarrillo’s hit appeared to be heading foul down the third base line until a late bounce brought it definitively toward the field of play. Freshman third baseman Sheldon Neuse (Fort Worth, Texas) fielded and threw to first, but Zarrillo was safe. RU added some insurance on a sac-fly by catcher Michael Zavala.
Zarrillo finished the day 4-for-5 with three runs driven in and two scored. Five other Scarlet Knights recorded a two-hit day, including second baseman Nick Favatella, who scored three times. For the Sooners, five players recorded multi-hit games. Haley went 3-for-4 with a run scored, while Hermelyn went 3-for-5.
Oklahoma’s homestand is interrupted with a road game against Texas-Arlington on Tuesday, March 11 when the two teams meet at the Ballpark at Arlington for a 7:00 pm contest.
· Oklahoma has given up runs in the first inning only three times this season. Having scored two in the bottom half, the Sooners are outscoring opponents, 21-5, in the first.
· The loss is the first of the season by an OU relief pitcher.
· Oklahoma leads the all-time series with Rutgers, 3-1. Before this weekend the two teams had only met once on May 22, 1998.
· In the series, James went 9-for-12 with five RBI, four runs, two doubles and a home run. He recorded three multi-hit games and leads the Sooners with 10 on the season. He is currently riding an eight-game hit streak.
· Oklahoma totaled 16 extra-base hits and slugged .582 on the weekend.
· The loss marked the second of the season when leading after six innings.