"It’s down to nut-cutting time."
Those are the words sophomore Cade Cavalli used to describe the current position of the Sooners, who are set to take on No. 6 seed TCU at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, in an elimination game in the Big 12 Tournament.
Even after being down six runs against Baylor, the offense never stopped quitting, head coach Skip Johnson said. It put a pair of late runs on the board, hit some balls hard and put runners on base. But when the runs did finally come for Oklahoma, the loss to Baylor was inevitable. Now the Sooners are one loss away from tournament elimination and the uphill battle for a spot in the NCAA field of 64 is even steeper. The Sooners recognize the sense of urgency.
“I mean, win, obviously,” junior Brady Lindsly said. “But to do that you just gotta take it pitch to pitch, stay with you, swing the bat a little better, square up some more baseballs in the zone, separate balls from strikes, stay with our approach and let it happen.”
“It’s either win or go home at this point,” Cavalli added. “We’re gonna see what we’re made of over these next couple games. It’ll be a good test for us.”
When the 2020 Sooners take the field next February, the roster will look quite similar. Only the three current seniors — Brylie Ware, Blake Brewster and Ryan Madden — are expected to leave the team at the end of the current campaign. Johnson’s second recruiting class, which is ranked 18th in the country by Perfect Game, will join the team in the fall and the current freshmen-juniors on the roster will have an extra offseason of growth.
But the 2019 Sooners are different than any past and future Oklahoma ball club. It’s a group that got off to Oklahoma’s first 3-0 start since 2013, opened the season with a 21-4 record, outscored Rice 19-0 over the final 13 innings of a road set to win the series on March 9-10, swept Kansas to kick off conference play on March 22-24 and defeated Texas 13-0 on May 17 in what was Oklahoma’s most lopsided victory ever against the Longhorns.
And this particular group’s season is on the line entering the early afternoon hours of Thursday, May 23. Johnson says he thinks his team is deserving of an NCAA Tournament spot even if it fails to win a game in the conference tournament, but realistically, the Sooners need to win two games to solidify a spot heading into the selection show on May 27.
The ball will be given to Nathan Wiles (8-3, 3.67 ERA) for the game against TCU, Johnson said after the Baylor game. The junior right-hander is fresh off his longest outing of the season, allowing two runs across eight innings of work against Texas on May 16. His eight wins on the year give him a share of the conference lead.
Sophomore Tanner Tredaway will look to continue his recent hot streak at the top of the lineup, the trio of senior Brylie Ware, sophomore Tyler Hardman and Lindsly will sit in the middle of the order and junior middle-infielders Conor McKenna and Brandon Zaragoza will round out the bottom half. It features young talent, potential and, at the same time, some veteran presence.
The 2019 Sooners will enter the record books shortly as another crimson-donning ball club in OU baseball’s up-and-down history. But for now, it’s down to nut-cutting time.