David Sandlin struggled locating his pitches in the fourth inning.
After walking Texas A&M’s leadoff hitter junior Austin Bost and floating a breaking ball that missed the strike zone high to sophomore Ryan Targac making the count 2-1, redshirt sophomore catcher Jimmy Crooks scampered out to the mound to chat with his pitcher.
Immediately following the conference, Sandlin allowed a single to Targac to give the Aggies two base runners with no outs. Then, Sandlin flipped a switch and relied on his fastball and slider to strike out the next three hitters he faced.
“I just told him to be relaxed,” Crooks said of the mound visit. “I don’t really tell David much. … I told him to relax, do his thing and pound the zone. After (allowing) that hit, I knew he was in the zone, that’s what got him going and then he struck out the next three batters.”
As the inning came to a close, Sandlin stepped off the mound, pumped his fist and expressed an emphatic yell. OU coach Skip Johnson has said since the start of the postseason his team consists of a ‘bunch of Davids,’ and David showed up Wednesday.
The redshirt sophomore retired 12 of the next 13 hitters he faced and finished the game with a career-high 12 strikeouts, while allowing just five hits and one run in seven innings to lift Oklahoma (45-22) over No. 5 Texas A&M (44-20) 5-1. With the win, OU advanced to its first College World Series Final since 1994, when the Sooners won the national championship.
Johnson, one of the most respected pitching coaches in the country, had high praise for his starter postgame.
“He was really executing pitches (in the fourth inning),” Johnson said. “You look at all of the guys who are really good at pitching and really the only thing you can control is throwing the ball to the target and executing a pitch. You can’t control the outcome, you might think you can, but if you’re trying to make those guys swing and miss, they don’t swing.
“For him to focus like that in the middle of a game in that environment was a high, elite level of focus, concentration and execution of pitches.”
Sandlin, a native of Owasso who didn’t make his school’s varsity team until his senior season, was able to get ahead in most of his counts by throwing first-pitch strikes. He finished with a pitch count of 100 and threw 69 total strikes in the win. According to D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt, Sandlin threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of the 27 batters he faced.
Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle tipped his cap to Sandlin during his postgame press conference following his team’s elimination.
“He was really good,” Schlossnagle said. “He was making good pitches, he was executing pitches, he really had a good breaking ball going. … I thought he had us on our heels the whole game. Credit to him and Skip, who is obviously an awesome pitching coach, always has been. They’re playing as good as anybody in college baseball and they’ve earned the right to play for the championship.”
Oklahoma’s offense stayed hot as well. Three of its five runs came in the first inning from a three-run shot to right field by Crooks, who finished the game 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored. The Sooners’ leadoff hitter freshman John Spikerman also finished 2-for-4 with a run scored.
Redshirt sophomore Peyton Graham, a projected second-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, and redshirt senior Tanner Tredaway each notched hits, extending both of their hitting streaks to 17 games. Redshirt sophomore Blake Robertson recorded a base hit and walked once. The walk, his 67th of the season, ties him with Terry Bogener for the single-season OU record.
As OU’s closer redshirt senior Trevin Michael punched out junior Brett Minnich to end the game, the Sooners were all business. No dogpile celebration, just a handful of smiles from a team that knows the job isn’t finished.
“Those kids are focused,” Johnson said. “I don’t tell them not to dogpile, I can tell you that. I’m real emotional, it might not seem like I am, I’m just thanking Jesus for the moment and all the people pulling for a bunch of guys named David, and it happened to be David pitching today.”