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OU baseball: Winning becoming 'contagious' for Sooners after sweep of Houston extends 6-game streak

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Brandon Zaragoza

Redshirt senior infielder Brandon Zaragoza hits the ball during the series finale against Arkansas State on March 15.

The Sooners are rolling.

After a three-game sweep against Houston (10-9) in Norman over the weekend, Oklahoma (12-7) has rounded into form. Its confidence is at a season high on a six-game winning streak in which it has outscored opponents, 65-17.

On March 14, Oklahoma lost to Arkansas State, 15-14, putting its record at 6-7. The Red Wolves were 2-7 coming into the game and OU once again had a losing record. After an offseason filled with promise and hope, it looked as if the team wasn't going to live up to the hype.

But the Sooners rallied, taking the next two games and clinching the series. They proceeded to knock off No. 1 Arkansas on the road and maintained momentum on the ensuing homestand.

OU outscored Houston 38-5 in the series, blasting 42 hits and six home runs. Its batting average is currently second in the Big 12 Conference, behind only Baylor, while its pitching staff and defense are turning a corner.

“It can get contagious,” head coach Skip Johnson said in reference to good performances firing up his team. “Guys can really start seeing it, they can really start getting confidence.”

Johnson’s remarks about good performances being contagious aren’t without reason. OU’s three wins over Houston came behind great all-around performances. It’s even spreading to players who were once on a slump.

Redshirt sophomore right-hander Wyatt Olds was 0-2 coming into Friday’s game, unable to garner a win through his first four starts. In that game, he turned in his best performance of the season. His 10 strikeouts were a career-high, and he gave up just one run in six innings pitched.

“Wyatt was more of himself,”  Johnson said. “What I was really excited about more than anything was that he gained confidence as the game kept going. It worked out just perfect.”

Oklahoma’s pitchers, including redshirt freshman left-hander Jake Bennett, said they’re gaining trust in their defense. Oklahoma had committed 23 errors before the weekend series and only committed three in three games against Houston. Bennett started Saturday’s game, striking out six batters and giving up no runs in six innings pitched. His defense committed just one error in the game.

“The guys in the field were great behind me,”  Bennett said afterward. “It just boosts your confidence … you can feel like anything you throw, it doesn’t matter, your guys are gonna back you up.”

The pitching and defensive improvements aren’t to be ignored, but the offense continues to be the Sooners’ backbone. The Oklahoma bats are still on a torrid streak, with the team now scoring more than 10 runs in seven games this season. OU scored 19 runs and 12 runs in Saturday and Sunday’s games, respectively.

Redshirt senior second baseman Conor McKenna and redshirt junior catcher Jimmy Crooks continued to light up the stat sheet, combining for 12 hits and three home runs in the series. They remain first and second, respectively, on the team in home runs.

Meanwhile, redshirt senior shortstop Brandon Zaragoza was the most consistent offensive contributor. Zaragoza went 7-for-11 in the series with nine RBIs, earning his 200th career hit in Saturday’s game and his first career home run in Sunday’s game.

“He works really hard at his craft,” Johnson said of Zaragoza. “He’s been such a great leader for our team … it’s been a blessing.”

Zaragoza has never batted above the No. 7 spot in the order this season. But, he’s never taken it as an insult, noting everyone has a role in OU’s dangerous lineup.

“It’s one through nine,”  Zaragoza said. “We’re playing offensive baseball … there’s not really a mindset of who’s hitting in what spot, but we do understand that everyone has a role … and we go out there and try to execute as best we can.”

Next, the Sooners will take their six-game winning streak to San Marcos, Texas at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 24 to play Texas State (8-12). After that, they’ll open up conference play Friday, March 26 with the first of three games against rival No. 10 Texas (11-5).

And as OU’s confidence grows, so do its expectations.

“I think if we continue playing like this,” Bennett said, “we can go all the way.”

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