Hughes, Sooners reach new heights but fall short of risen mid-season expectations

Hughes, Sooners reach new heights but fall short of risen mid-season expectations

Recapping The 2017 Oklahoma Baseball Season

Making the NCAA Tournament was something Oklahoma baseball fans demanded after three years of being absent at a chance to make Omaha. Coming into the 2017 season, many expected the Sooners to be right back at home in late May. However, an upper-classmen lead team decided that the wait was over.

It was a season of incredible highs, and the lowest of lows. A 21-3 start sparked a resurgence of what Sooners’ fans called “Boomer Ball”. Oklahoma had an opening series win against Long Beach State (who is still playing in the NCAA Tournament), and then took care of a lackluster non-conference schedule to push their ranking as high as No. 10 in one national poll. An opening Big 12 series win in Waco set up the stage for one of the bigger conference series in
Norman in the Hughes Era.

Tim Tadlock and his Texas Tech Red Raiders traveled to Oklahoma as the No. 2 ranked team in the country. It was a series that could show Pete Hughes belonged in Norman if he pulled out the win. On Friday night, it was Dylan Grove and Vincenzo Aiello that shut down the nationally coveted Raider lineup in a 6-2 win. Tadlock and company responded in Game 2 with a 9-4 victory, and then some Sunday heroics gave Oklahoma the unexpected series win. Junior Kyle Mendenhall hit a walk-off solo home-run and the Sooners entered the conversation as a National Seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Those pre-season expectations of winning a couple more games and competing in the Big 12 were raised by mid-season after the upset of Texas Tech. Then, the lowest point of the season took place. Losing ten of twelve, including series losses to unranked Texas and Kansas, pushed Oklahoma back out of the Top 25, and even out of the conversation to host a regional. However, a crazy trip in Morgantown gave the Sooners a much needed push the rest of the way.

Coach Randy Mazey of West Virginia spoke about the crazy trip at the Big 12 Tournament luncheon. Said he had “never coached” in a game like that rubber match to where “time” actually beat him. The coaches agreed on a 2:45 PM ET curfew as Oklahoma had to get to the airport for their flight back to Norman. The ninth inning ended at 2:44 PM ET, forcing the game into extras as the two were tied 4-4. A three-run top of the tenth eventually gave the Sooners the win, and they barely made their flight back to Oklahoma with five or so minutes to spare. This series win gave Oklahoma much needed confidence as they went into their last three weeks of the season.

Hughes and company traveled to Manhattan the following week, where they took two of three from the Wildcats. This set up another huge series in Norman with the No. 5 TCU Horned Frogs.

It was a weekend that many could not write a movie script for. A chance to host on the line and the final series for Oklahoma’s seniors became subplots as late-game heroics took over once again. After falling to TCU in night one, the Sooners responded in game two of the series as senior Renae Martinez hit a walk-off home-run to send the series to a rubber match on senior day. On that senior day, it was none other than senior Austin O’Brien that found himself in the right moment at the right time and hit a walk-off single that put Oklahoma right in the thick of the hunt of hosting a regional. Despite three consecutive series’ wins, that was the last sort of momentum Oklahoma had for the rest of the season.

A conservative gameplan in Bedlam gave in-state rival Oklahoma State a ticket to the Big 12 Tournament as the Cowboys won the only two games of the series. Then, Oklahoma lost another Red River Rivalry game in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament to Texas as Kacy Clemens left his final mark in the rivalry with two home-runs that sent Hughes and company to the loser’s bracket. There, they faced a TCU team coming off an upset by the No. 7 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. The Horned Frogs avenged their season series’ loss with a dominant 9-4 victory, sending the home-state team back to Norman from the Big 12 Tournament. This rough ending put their regular season record at 35-22, which is the best regular season record in the Pete Hughes Era.

The Sooners did hear their name get called during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. Oklahoma was sent to Louisville as the No. 2 seed and would face off against top MLB draft prospect Zac Lowther and his Xavier Muskateers. The regional was not set up in Oklahoma’s favor as they would face Lowther and potentially face one of the top pitching staffs in the country in Louisville.

In game one, the Sooners did handle their business and took care of Lowther, winning 7-2. However, Oklahoma looked like they belonged for only eight more innings as they played a tied ballgame into the seventh against host Louisville. From there, the Cardinals put up ten unanswered runs in the last three innings, beating Oklahoma like a drum 11-1. In the win-or-go home game against Xavier the next day, the Sooners looked depleted and got embarrassed as they were mercy ruled 11-0 to end their season.

Most coaches talk about “peaks and valleys” with their team at some point in a season. For Pete Hughes, that saying could not fit his team anymore in 2017 as they reached those peaks and definitely fell into those valleys. Hughes needed to win in 2017, and he definitely did that by reaching his first NCAA Regional while at Oklahoma. However, the last two games left a bad taste in many’s mouths and will leave even more unrest heading into the off-season.

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