The Oklahoma Sooners lost to the Ole Miss Rebels, 10-3, in Game 1 of the Championship Series of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday. Here are three thoughts on the game.
Oklahoma looked human
For perhaps the first time this College World Series, the Sooners did not look like they were on their game. The top six hitters in the order went 0-fer through the seventh inning. The crooked numbers and big hits just didn’t come the way they had in the first three games in Omaha. Pitching had been a strength for the Sooners, and their starter, Jake Bennett, pitched well. He got into the seventh inning, only gave up four runs and seven hits and struck out 10. Yes, he gave up the home run to Tim Elko in the third (and he had four hits in the game). But he kept the Sooners in the game.
After Bennett left, the Sooners couldn’t stay in the game. The eighth inning was like dagger, as Chazz Martinez gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs — yes, three in a row — to Justin Bench, Calvin Harris and TJ McCants as the Rebels took an 8-2 lead. Throughout the postseason the Sooners have played to a formula that worked — solid starting pitching, quality hitting, jumping on teams early and protecting multi-run leads. None of that materialized on Saturday. So, do the Sooners have a Plan B?
Give it up to Dougherty and Nichols
Ole Miss starter Jack Dougherty confounded the Oklahoma lineup for the first five innings. Perfect baseball. Fifteen up, 15 down. He induced groundouts. He induced pop flies. He struck out six, including all three in the third and five combined in the third and fourth innings. He basically defused the bomb that is the Oklahoma offense. Yes, in the sixth, the Sooners finally got to him. He gave up a single to Jackson Nicklaus, a single to Sebastian Orduno, a bunt single to Kendall Pettis and a walk to John Spikerman.
Then Dougherty had to hand the ball to a freshman reliever, Mason Nichols, with the bases loaded and no one out to protect a 4-1 Ole Miss lead.
Geez, thanks, dude.
It felt like Ole Miss had stuck Nichols with a no-win situation, especially with the heart of the Sooner order coming up. Sooner Nation probably thought it was their chance to take control. They were right.
But, Nichols was up for the task, striking out Peyton Graham and Blake Robertson with a host of sliders. He walked Tanner Tredaway, which was a fine piece of hitting on Tredaway’s part, to make it a 4-2 game. But Jimmy Crooks — who has had two big homers this series — hit a weak grounder back to Nichols for the final out.
As it turns out, that WAS the Sooners’ best chance to take control of the game, given what happened in the eighth.
The Sooners had the advantage going into this game, having two days of rest and catching an Ole Miss team that had to play back-to-back elimination games just to get to the championship series. Now, the Rebels have the edge. They can go all in on Sunday at 6 p.m. central and try to follow Mississippi State in winning the College World Series. The Sooners haven’t faced elimination in Omaha, until now. If there’s good news, it’s that the Sooners’ starting rotation is still on time, thanks to how it was able to get through bracket play unscathed. So, Sunday’s expected starter, Cade Horton, will be pitching on normal rest.
If the Sooners get back to their formula, they have a shot of extending this series to a third game on Monday.
Oh, and this little nugget — five of the last six national champions have lost Game 1 of the championship series.
Matthew Postins can be found on Twitter @PostinsPostcard