NORMAN, OK – The Oklahoma Sooners opening week began with a couple of blowout wins over Texas Southern on Tuesday and Wednesday, so Skip Johnson’s club was hoping to keep that momentum rolling into the weekend’s 4-game set against the Illinois State Redbirds.
Due to projected inclement weather, instead of playing a game on Sunday the teams elected to play a doubleheader on Friday in addition to the doubleheader that was already scheduled for Saturday.
The four games in two days epic began Friday afternoon with a pitcher’s duel between Oklahoma ace Cade Cavalli and the Redbirds’ Colton Johnson with the Sooners prevailing 2-1.
Here is a recap of that game along with the three other games from the series followed by some analysis and reaction:
Friday – Game 1 (Oklahoma 2-1)
As mentioned, the series began with a pitcher’s duel between Cade Cavalli and Colton Johnson.
The scouts were out in full force to see Cavalli in action, and he came out guns blazing with a 3-pitch strikeout to the first batter on three fastballs of 96-97 mph. Cavalli stressed afterward that he does everything he can to block out the extra sets of eyes on him in the crowd:
“I don’t look at that stuff, I don’t really care about it,” Cavalli said. “I’m here for my team.”
The game was still scoreless all the way into the sixth inning, when Oklahoma got themselves into position with runners on the corners and just one out.
The freshman Peyton Graham stepped to the plate and hit into what looked to be a gut-punching double play to end the inning. But, Skip Johnson elected to challenge the play to see if Graham had beaten out the throw at first.
Upon review, it was deemed that Graham was safe and Oklahoma had taken a 1-0 lead.
Trent Brown then followed that up with an RBI double and the Sooners took a 2-0 lead into the 7th.
Jake McCaw would get the Redbirds on the board in the seventh with an RBI knock of his own, to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
Cavalli would call it a day after seven very strong innings, allowing just the one run and striking out nine batters. He brought his best into his first outing at L Dale Mitchell Park.
“Cade was outstanding, I mean it was the best I’ve seen him early,” Skip Johnson said.
Jaret Godman would then throw a 1-2-3 eighth inning with a strikeout followed by Jason Ruffcorn locking down the ninth to earn the save and get Oklahoma the 2-1 win.
Friday – Game 2 (Oklahoma 4-1)
Oklahoma wouldn’t wait as long to wake up the bats in the night cap, as Brady Harlan got the offense started with an RBI single in the second inning to snag Oklahoma a quick 1-0 lead.
Illinois State’s Braedon Blackford would respond fast though, as he picked up a run-scoring single in the top of the third to knot things back up at 1-1.
That would be the only hit that Wyatt Olds allowed in his six innings of work. Normally a bullpen arm, Olds was given the start in the second half of the doubleheader and did not disappoint to say the least. Skip Johnson mentioned after the game that the plan is to have Olds be a regular starter down the line:
“That’s we are trying to groom him for is to be a starter next year,” Johnson said. “He settled in after the first inning.”
Olds’ final line was six innings only allowing the one hit and one run, while striking out nine batters. A really impressive showing for a player who is going to be very key with his versatility this season. Olds made it clear after the game that he doesn’t care what his role is as long as he helps the team win:
“I just want whatever is best for the team,” Olds said. “If it’s coming out of the pen it’s coming out of the pen if it’s starting, it’s starting.”
Despite the stellar outings from Cavalli and Olds on the day, the hero of Friday has to be Tanner Tredaway who is off to a monster start to his season.
After Peyton Graham gave the Sooners a 2-1 lead on a single, Tredaway tattooed a 2-run home run to left field to push the Sooner lead out to 4-1, which would eventually be the final score.
Tredaway went 4 for 8 in the two games on Friday, with the four hits coming by way of a home run, two triples, and a double. Just an absolutely monster day for the junior outfielder.
“I think the greatest thing today is I was able to do it all with two strikes,” Tredaway said. “I was really calm and relaxed with two strikes and I was able to see the ball up and drive it.”
Saturday – Game 3 (Oklahoma 3-2)
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader was a really fun game to watch if you prefer lower-scoring battles, as the game was extremely back and forth despite just having five total runs.
Justin Mitchell got Oklahoma on the board first with a double down the left field line that plated a run to get the Sooners an early 1-0 advantage.
Aidan Huggins would have a big day for the Redbirds, and his first of two RBI singles tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth.
Tyler Hardman would then get Oklahoma back in front by a run after going deep for his second time on the young season, but Huggins immediately responded with his second RBI single in the top of the seventh to tie the game 2-2.
Levi Prater was pretty good with 6 1/3 solid innings, allowing two runs and six hits to go with seven strikeouts.
After Tanner Tredaway got a leadoff double to open the eighth inning, he was then bunted over to third by Diego Muniz. Tyler Hardman then was intentionally walked to bring up Peyton Graham with runners on the corners and one out in a 2-2 ballgame.
The freshman came through in the big spot, driving a fly ball deep enough to right field to allow the speedy Tredaway to scamper home and get Oklahoma ahead 3-2.
Brad Demco and Jaret Godman would team up to get the final three outs and the Sooners took home their seventh straight win after dropping the first game of the season to Virginia.
Saturday – Game 4 (Illinois State 7-5)
The fourth and final game of the series was really defined by one inning, when the Redbirds managed to put up a five-spot on the Sooner starter Dane Acker.
Shortstop Joe Butler hit a grand slam to give Illinois State a 4-0 lead, and then Braedon Blackford went back-to-back with a solo shot to make it 5-0 Redbirds.
The Sooners would certainly battle back though, as Brady Lindsly would tag a three-run bomb of his own to make up some ground.
In the fifth, Conor McKenna would hit a double and then come around to score later on a wild pitch to pull the Sooners within one at 5-4.
Freshman Christian Ruebeck would run into some trouble in the eighth, though, and Illinois State was able to add two big insurance runs to take a 7-4 lead in the late innings.
The Sooner bats were unable to add any more offense, and Illinois State salvaged the final game of the series 7-4 to snap Oklahoma’s 7-game winning streak.
Being Oklahoma’s sixth game in five days, Skip Johnson noted a bad game (and really more specifically a bad inning) was bound to happen:
“(We played) 54 innings in five days. If you go out and have a hiccup in one inning out of 54, I think you can deal with that,” Johnson said.
Acker did a nice job bouncing back after the rough third inning, still managing to provide seven innings of work with eight strikeouts and not allowing any more runs in innings four through seven.
“It’s good early to see what he can do in that situation. He pitched with his heart…what he did was admirable,” Johnson said referring to Acker gutting out seven innings after the five-run third.
Thoughts and Reaction
This is another very nice series for Oklahoma taking three of four from an Illinois State team that honestly impressed me.
In Oklahoma’s blowout wins over Texas Southern, the Tigers did a lot in those games to beat themselves – specifically with bad defense.
Illinois State wasn’t like that, they were a buttoned up team that didn’t really make many mistakes and mostly pitched pretty well. They made Oklahoma beat them in the three wins the Sooners picked up.
It was good to see the Sooners win some close, low-scoring games where they were pushed a bit.
Of course it would have been nice for OU if they could have finished off the sweep and gone 6-0 on the week, but I actually really agree with Skip Johnson’s sentiment that when you play that many games in a short time span, having a bad inning is likely to happen.
Where I will have a little push-back is that while fatigue was surely a factor for the position players, Dane Acker was obviously well rested – so a bad inning for him is a tad concerning.
It’s baseball, and nobody is good all the time by any stretch. So I don’t think it is time to full blown panic over Acker having one clunker inning, but it is something to keep an eye on his next start – likely against Missouri next Sunday. He really needs to respond with a quality outing and it is completely within reason to expect him to do so.
Overall, it was another solid series win for Oklahoma in a schedule that doesn’t have a lot of gimme’s on it. They now get the week off, before heading to Houston next weekend for three tough matchups with SEC foes.
It feels like Oklahoma really needs to take two of three of those games at Minute Maid Park to make a statement, and they should have a good chance to do so with Cavalli and Prater spear-heading the rotation.
The Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic is next up for Oklahoma (7-2) as they head to Minute Maid Park to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks, Missouri Tigers, and LSU Tigers next weekend, beginning Friday afternoon at 3:00.