By JOHN SHINN
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma returned from Virginia Monday and got some needed rest. Winning the NCAA tournament’s Blacksburg (Va.) regional was a feat, but the payoff is a bigger challenge.
The Sooners (43-19) go on the road once again to face No. 4 national seed LSU (55-9) in a three-game series beginning Friday or Saturday at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The road, however, is a place OU is becoming very comfortable.
“Our guys understand that at this time of year it is us against the world if you’re not at home,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said Monday. “I’ve been talking all year about our mental toughness and it’s come through at the right time.”
Winning away from home in the NCAA tournament isn’t easy. As of 11 p.m. Monday, 14 of the 16 regionals had been decided. The host advanced in all but one of them. OU was it.
That mental toughness showed in the Blacksburg regional at the plate, in the field and on the mound.
OU rallied from early deficits in both its regional-opening win over Coastal Carolina and its regional-clinching victory over Virginia Tech. Hitting .322 (38 for 118) in Blacksburg marked one of the Sooners’ best offensive stretches of the season.
On the mound, OU only allowed 10 runs in 30 innings. They were also able to get through the regional without depleting the pitching staff.
The complete-game OU ace, Jonathan Gray, played in OU’s regional-opening victory over Coastal Carolina was followed up by two starter/bullpen mixes that helped OU cruise to a regional title.
The bullpen — Ralph Garza Jr., Kyle Hayes, Kindle Ladd and Jacob Evans — combined for 10 innings on the mound. The group only gave up two runs, and one was unearned.
“Garza threw pressure-packed innings in that Connecticut game and he was really good. Kyle Hayes, all he did in relief was terrific.
Kindle Ladd pitched really well in his short outing,” Golloway said. “All of them threw the ball really well. Our guys are pitching the ball really well.”
The Sooners will need similar performances to advance to the College World Series. LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, which can hold crowds of over 12,000 and likely will for the Super Regional series, is one of college baseball’s historic venues.
The Tigers have advanced to 15 College World Series 15 times. Most of those trips were solidified by NCAA tournament victories in their ballpark.
“For me with 21 years in college baseball, I’ve pretty much been everywhere from Miami to Washington. But the one place I’ve never been in those years is LSU,” Golloway said. “We’re looking forward to adding it to one of the places we’ve been and played and we’re hoping we’ll be successful.”
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