Sooner’s Drop Champ Series Opener

OMAHA, Neb. – The championship series at the NCAA Men’s College World Series is best-of-3.

Though Oklahoma’s baseball team admittedly wasn’t at its best during a 10-3 loss to Mississippi in Game 1 on Saturday night, the Sooners have not been eliminated.

“We have to continue to get better, learn from our lesson today, and move on,” OU fifth-year head coach Skip Johnson said.

The Sooners won’t have to wait long for a chance to pull even with the Rebels. Game 2 will begin at 2 pm Sunday, roughly 16½ hours after the series opener concluded.

Before a crowd of 25,813 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, OU trailed 4-0 after being no-hit through the first five innings. The Sooners’ bats finally made an appearance in the sixth inning to narrow their deficit to a far more manageable 4-2.

Two innings later, however, the Rebels recaptured command by clubbing back-to-back-to-back home runs to up their lead to 8-2. All this transpired with two outs.

Ole Miss pitchers combined to strike out 15 Sooners, who swung and missed underneath high fastballs from starter Jack Dougherty and freshman right-handed reliever Mason Nichols before succumbing to breaking balls from closer Josh Mallitz. The Rebels’ bullpen has now given up just three runs in the last 25 innings.

OU pitchers did combine for 12 strikeouts, but the Rebels still collected 16 hits, the most for a team in the championship series since 2008.

Ole Miss (41-23) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, marking the first time this entire MCWS the Sooners (45-23) had trailed.

OU starter Jake Bennett (10-4), who threw three wild pitches all season, had two in the first inning and another in the second. Also helping the Rebels’ cause was a first-inning error. Ole Miss scored another run with two outs in the second inning after an infield single to second base, a wild pitch and a single to right field to make it 3-0.

Again, all this transpired with two outs.

First baseman Tim Elko, who finished 4 for 5 at the plate, hit a solo homer down the right-field line in the third inning to make the score 4-0 with his team-leading 24th home run of the season.

“They definitely came out hot, but we were still in it,” Bennett said. “Still in it until the end. Sun is going to come up tomorrow. Just have to get ready to play.”

Johnson said. “I really thought they took the momentum from the beginning of the game. We kind of settled back in. Jake settled back down and made some really quality pitches as he went through it.”

Sophomore righthander Dougherty (4-3) entered the contest having pitched 12 straight scoreless innings. He was perfect through five innings, retiring the first 15 batters he faced, including five straight by strikeout, before freshman Jackson Nicklaus broke up the no-hitter in the bottom of the sixth with a line-drive single to centerfield.

Red shirt sophomore designated hitter Sebastian Orduno followed Nicklaus with a solid single to the right. left fielder Kendall Pettis placed a bunt single to third, which resulted in a throwing error to first base and scored Nicklaus to make it 4-1. Then came a walk to freshman right fielder John Spikermanwhich led to Dougherty getting pulled.

Dougherty, who had never gone more than five innings all season, wound up going 5-plus innings with six strikeouts, allowing three hits, two runs and allowing no walks. He stretched his scoreless inning streak to 17 before the Sooners found the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth.

Nichols replaced Dougherty with the bases loaded and no outs. Nichols struck out red shirt sophomore Peyton Grahamthe team leader in home runs with 20 this season (including two grand slams), then followed with a strikeout of redshirt sophomore BlakeRobertson.

Nichols walked super senior center fielder Tanner Tredaway with the bases still loaded to narrow the Sooners’ deficit to 4-2 before redshirt sophomore catcher Jimmy Crooks grounded out to Nichols to end the inning.

“You can’t take anything away from him,” Robertson said of Dougherty. “He was executing pitches. I think we were a little sped up. Lesson learned. Tomorrow we’ll be better prepared and ready to go.”

Asked if he thought his team left some runs out there in the sixth, Johnson said, “It happens. It’s baseball. Me and Peyton were talking about we’re going to get up again. Success is coming. Tanner Tredaway picked us up working the walk, which that helped big-time. It happens. Hats off to them for taking the momentum of the game. We had a chance to get back in the game to take the momentum back, scored two runs. They brought a reliever in. Did a great job.”

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore lefthander Bennett allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned), struck out 10 and had zero walks in 6.1 innings while throwing 106 pitches (74 strikes). He pitched three scoreless frames after the third inning and retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced.

“Jake did settle in, and he kept us in the game,” Robertson said. “We didn’t play to the best of our abilities, but we were still in the game even in the seventh inning. Like Skip said, we just learn from our loss and come back ready (Sunday).”

Asked what makes him and his teammates feel confident about the remainder of the series, Robertson said, “Well, we don’t give up. We go pitch to pitch, and we don’t give up, and we’re going to fight to the last out. Like I said, we were getting beat in every aspect of the game until the sixth inning, and we still had a chance to come back and win. So it’s just an unfortunate loss for us, but it doesn’t define us as a team.”

Johnson said of the evening, “We didn’t execute our game plan. There are balls that fell in. We lost them in the lights. Booted ground balls, swinging at balls out of the zone. That happens in a game when you’ re trying really hard. When you try at this game, you fail. This is what it does to you, and you have to make sure you can get in control of yourself, take a breath, and make it just about one pitch.”


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