One week after a soggy and disappointing Bricktown series against Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma Sooners (34-20, 12-11 Big 12) return to OKC tonight to begin the 2017 Big 12 Championship, where they’ll be the three seed behind Texas Tech and TCU.
Oklahoma’s first order of business will be the six-seed Texas Longhorns (34-20, 11-12 Big 12), a similar team that took two of three from OU in Austin earlier this season, starting a monthlong slide for the Sooners. Will OU take care of business this time around, or will David Pierce and the Longhorns hand Oklahoma its first loss of this double-elimination tournament?
The (Probable) Matchup
Wednesday: Nathan Wiles (4-3, 4.47) vs. Nick Kennedy (8-1, 2.36), 7:30 p.m., FSSW+
Because Oklahoma had to throw Devon Perez on Saturday, they’ll have to roll with Wiles tonight. Wiles has thrown a decent 44.1 innings this season, but shouldn’t be relied on to pitch deep into the game. The Sooners will need good bullpen innings from guys like JB Olson and Connor Berry to make this work.
The heart of Oklahoma’s lineup remains the ferocious 3-4-5 punch of Renae Martinez, Steele Walker and Austin O’Brien, but they will need help from guys like Brylie Ware, Kyle Mendenhall and Jack Flansburg — whose .299 slugging percentage bests only 9-hole hitter Brandon Zaragoza among Sooner starters — as well.
If OU wins consistently in this tournament, it will play four or five games in five days, something it obviously hasn’t had to do all season. But the grind will be a good test of the pitching staff before the real NCAA tourney begins, and a deep run may even be enough to host a regional for the first time since 2010.
The full field of 64 will be revealed on Monday.
Oklahoma hasn’t won the Big 12 tourney since 2013, and I don’t think that will change this year. That’s just too many wins in a row for a team this hot-and-cold.
I’d pick Texas Tech as the clear frontrunner here, but Oklahoma has already shown it can play with — and beat — the best teams in the conference. A run to the semis would be a successful tournament for OU, but if they get that far they might just surprise us all and finish the job.