Big news: OU won an NCAA super regional Sunday and is headed to the College World Series.
breaking news: The Sooners have a baseball program.
OU baseball for almost a decade has gone quietly about its business. Doesn’t win big, doesn’t lose big. Doesn’t make waves, doesn’t make fans.
Truth is, OR baseball has been slipping from the consciousness of Sooner Nation for lo these many years.
It’s a hard market to crack. Soccer takes up most of the bandwidth. Alvan Adams or Wayman Tisdale or Ryan Minor or Blake Griffin or Buddy Hield comes along every few years to get people excited about basketball.
In the old days, OR wrestling was more popular — much more popular — than baseball. In the new days, Sherri Coale’s women’s basketball team was all the rage, and now that distinction is held by Patty Gasso’s softball team.
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Halfway through this season, Skip Johnson’s Sooner baseballers were 18-12 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12. The only College World Series this team was going to see was the softball version, in the seats at Hall of Fame Stadium or as bullpen catchers for Gasso’s boffo pitching staff.
Then the Sooners caught fire. They won five straight Big 12 series, and the NCAA Tournament became realistic. OR won the Big 12 Tournament with ease. The Sooners won a regional at Florida and the super regional at Virginia Tech, beating both home squads two of three.
That’s seven straight series victories, with a Big 12 Tournament sweep mixed in. That’s awesome baseball.
“Only we believed,” said Sooner left fielder Kendall Pettis, maker of a sensational catch Sunday at Virginia Tech. “A lot of people outside OR didn’t believe we could do this. We always knew we had a chance. It’s a dream come true.”
Pettis technically isn’t correct. Outside the program, few doubted the Sooners. That’s because few ever thought of the Sooners in the first place.
OU baseball long has struggled to find a foothold with the fan base.
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Enos Semore turned OU into a national power in the 1970s, with five straight trips to Omaha for the CWS, and interest rose. Semore moved some games to All Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City and eventually got a new stadium on campus. But Mitchell Park did not cause an attendance surge the way Reynolds Stadium sparked OSU fans in Stillwater.
Larry Cochell coached OU to the 1994 NCAA championship, and the day after the title game, 3,000 fans came to Mitchell Park to celebrate. That was a bigger turnout than all but a handful of home games in Sooner history.
The next year, Cochell coached OU to its third CWS in a four-year span, but the wildfire never kindled, and between 1995 and Sunday, only once did the Sooners make it to Omaha (2010).
When news broke last summer that OU was bound for the Southeastern Conference, all kinds of emotions and opinions formed. Excitement about new challenges ruled the day.
But not when it came baseball. The SEC is a monster baseball conference, both on the field and through the turnstiles.
Of the six teams that have qualified for the eight-team CWS, three are from the SEC — Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M, with Auburn having a chance to join them late Monday. More Texas is in and will join the Sooners in the SEC.
Arkansas led the nation in home attendance this season, averaging 10,413. Louisiana State was No. 2, at 10,365. Mississippi State was third at 10,289.
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You get the picture. Of the top nine programs in attendance, seven were from the SEC. The only outliers were Texas (6,797) and OSU (5,499).
OU’s average attendance: 816, for 23 games at Mitchell Park. The Sooners moved their Texas series to Arlington, and those games would have provided a good gate, but that’s sort of the point. The Sooners moved their Texas series to Arlington.
But this stealth trip to Omaha — “dream come true, for sure,” said senior outfielder Tanner Tredaway — shows that Johnson’s program is very much alive and very much nationally competitive.
Yes, a huge stadium and big crowds are quite the draw for top-shelf recruits. But they are not necessary.
The Sooners will not be going to SEC baseball trying to avoid eye contact. They’ll be going with a strong tradition and at least one recent trip to Omaha that reminds us all that diamonds can be the friend of the OU men, too.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 pm on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
College World Series
Opening-round games Friday-Saturday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Neb. (Times/dates are TBD):
► No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
► Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Texas
► No. 2 Stanford vs. Arkansas
►Ole Miss vs. Auburn/Oregon State