By Arnie Leshin
Thrills! Chills! Spills!
That’s the Oklahoma baseball team, not exactly your routine by-the-book bunch on the baseball diamond. At the 2020 NCAA Division I World Series, it is marching through one bag at a time while generally playing with fast forward button pushed.
True, these Sooners come off winning the Big 12 Conference, but they’ve also had kind of a roller-coaster season, flying high up the rails only to drop heavily into the loss column. At the same time, they are only one win from advancing to the best-of-three series final and wrapping up their third national championship. They are 42-22, not one of the better records to win it all, but it only matters what it does here and that’s all that matters when you lift the trophy.
The other two times they’ve hoisted this championship trophy, they won their first two games in the Elite Eight of the World Series. This time same thing. As in 1951 and 1994, they are 2-0, with off days today and tomorrow and a contest Wednesday against the Tuesday Notre Dame-Texas A & M winner. Oklahoma has beaten both of them.
First the stumbling around times it brought to the field this campaign. It lost 18-0 at Wichita State, 10-1 versus Dallas Baptist, played in a March tournament and were knocked around by Louisiana State, UCLA and Tennessee by the football score of 28-7.
But now these Sooners are on a wave, and there aren’t many waves in beachless Norman. There are NCAA softball champions residing there and the sixth made the highlights again with their second in a row just before the white stitched ball began post-season play this time.
And it’s been quite a stretch run that began at the Regionals in Gainesville when they ousted host, 12th-seeded Florida in the best-of-three, then in the Super Regionals in Blacksburg, Va., when they eliminated host Virginia Tech, the 4th-seed. Then came 5th-seeded Texas A & M and red-hot Notre Dame.
The audacity of youth has taken charge. If a starting lineup of five freshman and four sophomores seems like light years away, it is right here for manager Skip Johnson.
“These guys did not exactly come her on a roll,” Johnson said, “but once they were here they embraced the moment. They just came together, like the other day’s first inning, first pitch amazing grab by our catcher when he flipped over the Notre Dame dugout railing and caught the foul pop up. The Notre Dame players there looked amazed and we kind of shrugged our shoulders.”
Right manager, and they run the bases like a track team, field like there’s no tomorrow, and hit like it’s become nothing new. You must admit that they are much more comfortable here, more confident, kind of like feel on the road to a championship just as the Sooner women just nonracially did.
“We just want to prove everybody wrong,” said freshman centerfielder Tanner Tremaway, “and bring a championship home from here.”
Fellow freshman righthander pitcher Cade Norton is right out of Norman, grew up about two blocks from the campus and only a year from undergoing Tommy John surgery is having a ball. He is hurling like a veteran, although the team doesn’t have many, and displaying leadership although the team doesn’t have many of that either. But it sure has grown on the way to Omaha.
Said Johnson in regard to Norton: “Who knows, maybe he’s getting good home cooking, but he’s been great for us on the mound. Went the first eight innings against Notre Dame, got in an out of tough jams, struck out 11, and in the post-game interview said he wished he could be back for home cooking tonight, but then he looked around the locker room, smiled and said he has no problem eating with these guys.
Johnson said he went out to speak with Norton with two on and two out in the eighth and Cade said he could fire another one, and so Johnson said he patted him on the butt and said go get it, and he did with a popup behind the plate.
Wonder if there are many of the school’s softball supporters and even players are seated at Charles Schwab Field? Would be nice, and could be true, but these youngsters having a ball with the national pastime don’t need much help.