Sooners won't have a bigger couple of weeks on the baseball diamond

Kyle Laferriere-US PRESSWIRE

With half a season still to go, the next two weeks could be the most critical part of the schedule in OU's pursuit of its first Big 12 regular-season championship in baseball.

Oklahoma State was scheduled to come to Norman for a big midweek Beldam Series game on Tuesday, but the weatherman had other ideas and the game was cancelled because of rain. No makeup has been scheduled.

That may not be all bad news, because it gives the Sooners extra time to prepare for what could be their most critical back-to-back series of games all season. With three game weekend road series coming up with Red River rival Texas, followed by a trip to Waco to square off in three games with defending conference champion Baylor, coach Sunny Golloway's league-leading Sooners may not have a bigger couple of weeks or a better chance to make a strong statement and stake a solid claim on the 2013 Big 12 baseball crown.

The Sooners (25-5, 5-1) had a 13-game winning streak snapped on Sunday in a 10-8 loss to Kansas. Oklahoma began the week one and a half games ahead of second-place Oklahoma State (21-6 overall), which would have given Tuesday's game an extra layer of importance, not that any athletic competition between OU and OSU needs any extra incentive to be hotly contested.

The two in-state rivals will face each other three more times in May, but Tuesday's game at L. Dale Mitchell Park is the only game to be played in Norman.

OU designated-hitter Matt Oberste has been on fire since opening day. The junior form Sallisaw, Okla., is leading the conference in hitting with a .449 batting average and a league-best 53 hits in his first 30 games this season. He also has hit safely in each of those games, equaling the second longest hitting streak in a single season in Big 12 history. Oberste set the Oklahoma program record when he safely in his 28th straight game on Friday against Kansas.

Former Oklahoma State player Ty Wright holds the Big 12 record for the longest hitting streak: recording a hit in 35 consecutive games in 2007.

This weekend's three-game set in Austin should favor the pitchers over the hitters, as OU and Texas are one and two in the conference in pitching, with staff ERAs of 2.78 and 2.81, respectively. Oklahoma is the better hitting team of the two teams. The Sooners are hitting .294 as a team, with a league-leading 19 home runs and have scored 77 more runs than the Longhorns on the season (182 to 105). Right-hander Jonathan Gray and southpaw Dillon Overton will get the start for the Sooners in the first two games of the Texas series. Combined the two weekend starters have a record of 11-2 for the year in 14 starts between them.

The Baylor series, the week following Texas, looms equally important. The Bears will tune up for their series with the Sooners by hosting West Virginia (15-13, 3-3) this weekend. Baylor is not as strong this season as its 2012 team, which won its first 18 consecutive conference games. The Bears lost only four league games in the regular season, and three of those were at Oklahoma, as the Sooners swept the Bears in their regular-season finale and then defeated them again in the Big 12 postseason tournament.

The Sooners still have to hit the road in May for three-game series at West Virginia and against Kansas State to end the regular season, but the next 12 days will be a huge test for Oklahoma and a key measure of OU's ability to live up to the expectations of Big 12 coaches, who voted the Sooners as the preseason favorite to capture their first Big 12 regular-season baseball crown. OU did win the Big 12 Tournament championship in the conference's inaugural year in 1997.

The Sooners also received an individual accolade this week when junior starter Jonathan Gray was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for the third time this season. Gray struck out 12 Kansas hitters in going the distance in Oklahoma's 12-1 series-opening win over Kansas last Friday. He had a no-hitter going through seven innings. Gray became the 13th Big 12 pitcher to be so honored three times in the same season. Gray leads the conference this season in innings pitched (53.2) and strikeouts (63) and owns the league's fourth-best ERA at 1.34.

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