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OU baseball: Sooners 'hang their heads high' after statement Bedlam series win over Oklahoma State

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The Sooners celebrate their win after the series finale against Arkansas State on March 15.

The Sooners (22-20, 6-9 Big 12) knew they needed a statement series win against Oklahoma State (25-14-1, 8-10), and over the weekend, that’s exactly what they got.

For the first time since 2016, Oklahoma claimed victory in the Bedlam series, taking two out of three against the Cowboys. The series was won with explosive offense and authoritative pitching, as both sides of the ball finally came together for the Sooners.

The first game of the series, played in Stillwater, was undoubtedly OU’s best performance of the season. The Sooners crushed the Cowboys, winning 16-2 behind four home runs and five scoreless innings from starting pitcher Wyatt Olds. By the fifth inning, Oklahoma was already up 14-0 and closed out the game by scoring two runs in the ninth.

Redshirt junior first baseman Tyler Hardman was again the team’s best hitter that day, driving in six RBIs on two hits. He was helped out with four hits from redshirt sophomore outfielder Brett Squires and three-run performances for redshirt senior second baseman Conor McKenna and redshirt freshmen Peyton Graham and Jimmy Crooks.

“The game started out as a tough matchup,” head coach Skip Johnson said afterward. “We kept separating balls from strikes as we went through the game. I really thought it was a great plan.”

The series shifted to Norman for the final two games. The second game was nothing like the opener, being marked by great pitching performances. OU took an early 2-0 lead before falling behind 3-2 in the fifth inning. The Sooners were able to retake the lead in the seventh on Squires’ second home run of the series and increased it on an RBI double from McKenna in the eighth.

But the primary catalyst in the win was redshirt senior right-hander Jason Ruffcorn. The Sooners’ closer was called upon in the third inning, replacing starting pitcher Jake Bennett. It was the earliest he had ever entered a game in his career, and after giving up two home runs across the fourth and fifth innings, he dominated the rest of the way.

Ruffcorn turned in six-and-two-third innings of work, the longest outing of his career. He earned his fourth pitching win of the season behind a career-high 10 strikeouts, including three in the ninth to emphatically close the game. In total, he had thrown 111 pitches while only giving up four hits.

Finally clinching his first Bedlam series win as head coach after being hired by OU in 2018, Johnson couldn’t have been more impressed with his team.

“I thought we played with a lot of pride,” Johnson said Saturday. “It’s huge for us. We’ve been fighting all year long and stuff hasn’t gone our way, but we never made any excuses about it. We executed our game plan well today.”

For his part, Ruffcorn couldn’t have been more overjoyed after securing a vital win for his team.

“This is what I’ve done all my career,” Ruffcorn said after Saturday’s contest. “It’s nothing new to me. I knew everyone had my back, so I just went as long as I could as hard as I could.”

The series finale was equally close, albeit with a different result. The Sooners fell to OSU in 12 innings, losing 8-7 in a game full of tension and big moments. OU took a 4-1 lead in the second but fell behind 5-4 after the fourth. After an RBI single from Crooks tied the game at five, the Sooners went back in front on a wild play.

Facing a 3-1 count, redshirt senior shortstop Brandon Zaragoza took a called strike two. The throw back from OSU catcher Brock Mathis got away from pitcher Kale Davis, allowing Crooks to race home and score the go-ahead run. Zaragoza then hit an RBI single later in the at-bat, making the score 7-5.

However, OSU would rally and tie the game after scoring twice off Olds in the ninth, and won in the 12th inning after redshirt sophomore right-hander Jaret Godman gave up an RBI single.

OU played without Graham for most of the game, as he was taken out in the first after being hit in the head with a pitch. Graham needed stitches but suffered no serious injury and is expected to return quickly.

"I think they’re gonna hang their heads high no matter what," Johnson said after Sunday’s game. "We wanted the sweep and fought hard for it. We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make.”

After their Bedlam series victory, the Sooners will play a non-conference game against No. 8 Texas Tech (30-11, 10-8) at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday, May 4 in Amarillo before traveling to Morgantown to take on West Virginia (15-21, 6-11) in a three-game series starting Friday, May 7.

With a full head of steam entering the next four games, Johnson wants his team to keep battling as it continues to push for an NCAA tournament bid.

“The adrenaline will get you through most games,” said Johnson. “I was really proud of them, and I commend them for competing, but we got to keep fighting going forward.”

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