There was a celebration on Saturday at L. Dale Mitchell Park. The 13-3 victory over Samford was much more than a good way to wrap up the weekend.
The regular-season finale gave the Sooners (35-21) their 10th series win in 14 weeks, a two-game-winning streak heading into this week’s Big 12 tournament at Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Ballpark with a two-game-winning streak and a fitting way for a group of six seniors to play their final scheduled game at home.
Most importantly, the Sooners believe their status as an NCAA Tournament team has been solidified.
“We’ll be a lock,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said.
OU will enter the Big 12 tournament with the third highest spot in the Ratings Percentage Index of conference teams. The official rankings come out on Tuesday, but rankings using the same formula used in the RPI put OU between the high 30s and low 40s. That along with 35 wins, a 13-10 record in the Big 12 has — traditionally — been enough to get an invite.
What OU can do is remove any doubt with its performance this week in Oklahoma City. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Making a deep run can have the same effect.
The Sooners, who are the fifth seed, open play at 9 a.m. on Wednesday against fourth-seeded Oklahoma State. League champion Baylor and eighth-seeded Kansas State are also on the Sooners’ side of the bracket. Wednesday morning’s game is a chance to make a statement. The Cowboys have already announced Andrew Heaney, who has been the most dominant pitcher in the Big 12 this season, will take the mound. The left-hander shutout OU two and a half weeks ago in Tulsa. Beat the Cowboys, and pick up a win or two over Baylor, and the Sooners suddenly look like a team surging at the right time.
Closing strong is the goal of every team as it heads into postseason play. OU has done some things to give that impression. The three-game sweep of Baylor last weekend helped create that image. Get a victory over the Cowboys with Heaney on the mound and another over the Bears and that image is cemented.
“We’re a lot better team than we’ve shown,” OU’s Hunter Lockwood said. “We just have to put it all together.”
The Big 12 tournament is the final opportunity to do so before the NCAA tournament selection decides which teams keep playing and which teams are done.
The Sooners believe they’ve done enough to warrant a selection. There’s no reason to believe they haven’t. This week, however, is the chance to show
“We’ll be up to the task. It’ll be a challenge, but it’ll be a challenge our guys accept,” Golloway said.