June 8, 2012
By Andrew Gilman
NORMAN, Okla. --
South Carolina is the hottest team in college baseball.
Seems like forever since they’ve been beaten. It kind of has. Two seasons ago, in fact. The Gamecocks are the two-time defending champs.
Sounds a lot like what another Oklahoma team recently went up against.
And it sure worked out pretty good for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Last week, the Thunder sent the San Antonio Spurs to four losses in a row after the Spurs won 20 in a row. This week, the Sooners will be taking on the kings of the diamond, perfect in the postseason since OU beat them two years ago.
What a spot for the Sooners.
“It’s a good spot,” said OU coach Sunny Golloway. “Two years ago, we were going to Charlottesville and everyone was telling me that they (Virginia) hadn’t lost two in a weekend. I gave them (OU) the same message, I’m going to give them today. The only thing that matters is what the people wearing crimson think. We believed we could go into Virginia and win, and right now we’re going to a two-time defending champ. They’ve won 19 straight. It’s a great storyline.”
It’s a great storyline, but the Sooners’ story is impressive, too. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago when it looked as though OU might be sitting out the postseason. But then came a sweep against Baylor before a run all the way to the final of the Big 12 tournament. From there, OU lost in the first round of the regional before winning four in a row to earn a trip to the Super Regional.
OU has risen from the bubble to the top. The Sooners are ranked No. 12 in the country and have won 24 of their past 33 games and will head to South Carolina 42-23 overall. The best-of-three series stars at 7 p.m. Saturday. South Carolina is ranked No. 2 and is 43-17 this season.
So, how have the Sooners done it? Well, in an unlikely way, really. OU has had solid pitching all season long, including in the regional, but it’s been the bats that have helped out in the postseason.
OU has scored four or more runs in six of the past seven games. The other game was a 2-1 win over Army in the second game of the regional.
“We’ve underachieved,” said senior shortstop Caleb Bushyhead. “There’s no doubt. Our pitching has been there all year and our lineup hasn’t done it’s part. Having that confidence in them as a staff really helps knowing that if we can put up some runs, we’ll be cruising. Personally I’ve underachieved, but that’s that’s irrelevant right now. Numbers don’t matter. All that matters is winning. I don’t care if I’m 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. If the Sooners win, I’m pumped.”
Maybe the numbers don’t matter to Bushyhead, but they sure look good to the rest of us. After struggling much of the season, Bushyhead has put together a great postseason. He went 7-for-18 in Charlottesville and was named to the All-Regional team.
Meanwhile, Matt Oberste has been sensational. The Most Outstanding Player of the regional, had seven hits and drove in six runs in the four games, including a four-for-four performance with four RBI in the first elimination game against Appalachian State.
“What Matt Oberste has done has been amazing,” Bushyhead said. “You see him at the plate, and it’s like, ‘Heck, yeah. Who’s on base and how many are we scoring? He’s confident right now and so are a lot of other guys. We’re doing a lot of things well.”
And a lot of guys are hitting. Outfielder Cody Reine had a career-high six RBI in Game Four over Appalachian State, including hitting his fifth-career home run at Davenport Field in Charlottesville, Va.
And of course, the pitching has been consistent, too. In addition to the starters bullpen ace Steven Okert has been great. He has not allowed an earned run in his last eight appearances, a streak of 15 innings. He has five saves and a 2.78 ERA this season.
Jordan John (8-7, 2.26 ERA) is scheduled to start the opener against South Carolina. Jonathan Gray (8-4, 3.32) will be the Game 2 starter and Dillon Overton (6-3, 3.16) will be on the mound in Game 3.
“We’re here. You have to get some breaks, and you have to do it when it counts,” Bushyhead said. “I know for a fact, we’re doing that now. We’re rolling. We couldn’t be more excited.”