Sooners’ backs against the wall in MCWS title series

For the first time in this year’s Men’s College World Series, the Oklahoma Baseball Sooners find themselves behind eightball.

After moving up 3-0 into the MCWS Championship Series, the Sooners now need to win back-to-back games against a very good Ole Miss team poised to end things and walk away at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha on Sunday with its first national championship.

The bad news is that Oklahoma (45-23) looked like a shell of its youngest self in a 10-3 loss to Ole Miss in Game 1 of the championship series on Saturday. There wasn’t a phase in the Sooners’ performance that would have allowed them to walk away with an all-important opening game win.

The good news is that the Sooners remain alive in their quest for a third national title, but the task has clearly gotten tough.

Saturday’s play started harmlessly as OU starter Jake Bennett pulled back the first two Rebels he faced, but a three-hole two-out single from Tim Elko was followed by a wild pitch from Bennett that allowed Elko to taking second base with a single-by Kevin Graham who hit Elko, another wild pitch and then Sooner shortstop, Peyton Graham was unable to ground a ball from Kemp Alderman allowing Graham to head home with the Rebels’ second run come. Anyone who came after two was out.

Before the Sooners even got a bat in the opening inning, they found themselves behind in a game for the first time in the 2022 College World Series.

It became apparent early on that Sooner ace Bennett was having command issues and the Sooners were digging a dangerous hole.

It didn’t get any better in the Rebels’ second at-bat. Bennett retired the first two Ole Miss batters on strikeouts before giving Calvin Harris a single at 0-2. Bennett uncorked his third wild pitch of the game, allowing Harris to finish second. Then Justin Bench, the Rebels’ lead hitter, hit through the right side of the infield after two balls to make Harris 3-0.

Elko greeted Bennett in the top of the third inning with a solo home run blast just inside the right field foul pole to increase Ole Miss’s advantage to 4-0.

Ole Miss sophomore right-hander Jack Dougherty dominated on the mound and went five full innings without a hit, despite coming into the game with a 4-3 pedestrian record and an earned running average of nearly five carries per game. Still, he had the Sooners’ numbers that night.

However, Dougherty ran into trouble in the sixth from Sooner. Jackson Nicklaus and Sebastian Orduno opened the frame with back-to-back singles. A throwing error by Rebels third baseman Garrett Wood allowed Nicklaus to score the first Oklahoma run. John Spikerman Dougherty worked for a walk, loading the bases, and that forced a pitching change when freshman Nichols stepped in to Dougherty’s relief.

Nichols knocked out both Peyton Graham and BlakeRobertson swinging, but walked Tanner Tredaway Orduno achieved on five pitches. Jimmy Crooks grounded to end the inning and leave three Sooners on base, but for the first time in the game the OU offense had shown some life and the deficit had been narrowed to a more manageable two runs.

As it turned out, however, there was no comeback on the Oklahoma attack, and any hopes of a late rally quickly ended in a four-run eighth inning from Ole Miss, fueled by back-to-back homers away from OU reliever Chazz Martinez through the eighth, ninth and leadoff hitter in the Ole Miss lineup. Then it was time for game 1 to turn off the lights and warm up the bus.

Elko had four hits in five record appearances for Ole Miss when the Rebels’ lineup pitched five Oklahoma pitchers for 16 hits. On the Sooner side, Peyton Graham, who was outstanding for OU in the MCWS, hit a swing three times in four shots. The Sooners were held to just five goals in the game.

Ole Miss was dominant in that game, but the Sooners contributed greatly to their own decline with wobbly pitching, taking too many good pitches for strikes early in counts, and uncharacteristic field errors.

The Sooners now have to put all that behind them. They experienced a similar meltdown in Game 2 of the Blacksburg Super Regional against Virginia Tech, but managed to put all of that aside and come back in the deciding Game 3 with a strong offensive performance and brilliant pitching from freshman righthander Cade Hortonwho will face a similar challenge to the Sooner starter in Game 2 of the Championship Series on Sunday afternoon.

Will the Sooners have enough fighting power to seize the momentum, which is clearly on Ole Miss’ side, and force a winner take-all Game 3 on Monday. We’ll find out soon as both teams will be back on the field just 16 hours after the end of Game 1.

The only thing that’s obvious is Oklahoma needs to get off to a much better start than it did in Game 1 and return to the overall record that got them to that championship point in the postseason.

Something else the Sooners can take to heart as they get up and prepare for Game 2 on Sunday is that each of the last three national champions lost the opening game of the MCWS Championship Series and rebounded to win it all.

There’s only one Oklahoma, and the time is now!

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