As with so many other sports, baseball is a game of inches and hits don't necessarily need to go far to be effective. The Purdue Boilermakers emphatically proved that point on Friday night when they attempted seven bunts in the first inning. The result was a 4-0 lead after their first at bat and a shocked and frustrated Oklahoma baseball team.
"The story of the game, you don't play fundamental baseball. We didn't and they did," said Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes after. "I would have did the same thing," Hughes continued in reference to the bunts. "I'm going to do it until a team defends is and we didn't do a good job at doing that. It wasn't a big surprise after the second one went down that they were going to keep making us defend it."
Purdue jumped on OU early and left the Sooners in a big hole by the end of the first inning. Michael Vilardo jumped on the first pitch offered by Oklahoma starter Jake Elliott and sent it to right field for a single. Purdue then followed with back-to-back bunts to load the bases for junior Kyle Wood who delivered a bases clearing double to right field. Another bunt, this time a sacrifice, moved Wood to third and then he came home on the Boilermakers fourth bunt of the inning.
By the time Oklahoma took the plate in the bottom of the first they were looking at a 4-0 deficit on the scoreboard and failed to produce any substantial offense until the sixth. Josh Ake led off the inning with a walk and then moved to third base a batter later when Craig Aikin doubled to right-center. Sheldon Neuse pushed Ake home with a sacrifice but that's the only run Oklahoma was able to plate.
Meanwhile Wood struck again in the top of the third with a solo shot over the right field wall extended the Boilermaker's lead to 5-0. Keeping their offense alive, they added another run in the fourth to build a seemingly insurmountable lead near the midway point of the game.
Following Ake's run in the sixth, both schools held serve through the ninth when Oklahoma attempted a brief rally. Back-to-Back walks with the bases loaded pulled Oklahoma to within 6-3 and brought preseason All-American Sheldon Neuse to the plate with the bases loaded. A walk-off wasn't in the cards though as Neuse went down swinging on a 2-2 pitch.
"It was a fastball," Neuse said about that final swing. "You go out there and you miss a pitch up, one that you can elevate and drive in the gap. I missed it and then the kid makes a decent pitch and I swing right through it. I'm not gonna tip my hat to him that's for sure. That's on me."
Oklahoma's Jake Elliott was sturdy in his start. Oklahoma's sophomore ace fanned 10 Purdue batters but was on the hook for all six runs that came on 10 hits, the majority of which were bunts. "They were probably the most aggressive team we've faced all year," Elliott said. Aggressive is probably the best description of what Purdue did from the plate. Elliott entered the game with a 2-0 record and a 1.45 ERA and the Boilermakers didn't bat an eyelash at attacking him.
Elliott's counterpart was Purdue freshman Mike Kornacker and despite an 0-1 record and 3.37 ERA he knocked Oklahoma's bats well off pace from the 22 run performance they produced just four days ago. Only five OU batters produced hits and Craig Aikin was the only one of those with multiple.
Yet, with all that went against them, there stood Neuse at the plate with the power and opportunity to redeem what had been a bad defensive and hitting night for the Sooners. A walk-off would have been swift justice to a Purdue team and pitching staff that scoffed at Oklahoma home field advantage and 10-5 record. It just wasn't meant to be though
Although Neuse was understandably frustrated for leaving the bases juiced, Coach Hughes indicated that it wasn't a failed ninth inning rally that doomed the Sooners. "You want to talk about the last at bat, I'd talk about the first inning. That's where the game was decided."
The Sooners and Boilermakers will play game two on Saturday at 5:00 pm.