NORMAN — Chasing a Big 12 baseball championship, Oklahoma absorbed a sucker punch earlier this week when No. 2 pitcher Dillon Overton was lost indefinitely to an arm injury.
Going forward, Sunny Golloway figures to be doing some rotation manipulation, mixing and matching to give his Sooners the best shot at a title he admittedly covets.
And the manipulation started Friday night, when Golloway flipped ace Jonathan Gray to a Saturday start opposite Texas Tech standout Trey Masek, turning the series-opening mound work over to surprise starter Jake Fisher.
The move couldn't have worked any better — although OU must still get the final three outs in a game suspended by lightning and rain — with Fisher handling the Red Raiders and the Sooner bats responding for an 8-0 lead through eight innings.
The teams will return to Mitchell Park to start the top of the ninth inning at noon Saturday, with Game 2 scheduled for 2 p.m.
“Jake did a great job of setting us up, if we can finish the game (Saturday),” Golloway said.
“That's what I told our guys, the game isn't over. I've seen stranger things happen. We scored eight runs against Missouri with two outs on this field to leave them standing once.
“So this game's not over and I understand that.”
Fisher, with a little help from reliever Robert Tasin, pushed it to the limit, after Golloway countered Tech coach and former OU assistant Tim Tadlock's slotting of Masek for Game 2.
While Gray is the Big 12's dominant starter and the No. 2-ranked prospect in June's draft by MLB.com, Masek is the No. 81 prospect and a potential second-round pick who carries the conference's best earned run average of 0.92, although he earlier missed a month due to tendinitis in his arm and shoulder.
Golloway expected a matchup of premium arms Friday, only to be informed by Tadlock that Masek would be throwing Saturday. And seeing the clearest path to a series win and possible sweep coming through a showdown of aces, Golloway shuffled his weekend rotation.
“We had a little cat and mouse going on,” Golloway said.
The only issue: who would Golloway pitch?
First, he checked with Gray to make sure he wouldn't mind moving his start to Saturday. Then he asked Gray for his recommendation for a replacement.
When Gray offered up Fisher, the same name Golloway said he had in his head, it clinched it.
Next, Golloway made a call to Fisher.
“I called Jake and I said, ‘Jake, if you're asked to pitch tomorrow are you going to be ready to go?'” said the Sooner coach. “He said, ‘I'm ready, I'll give you my best.'
“I said, ‘Your best isn't going to be good enough. You've got to tell me you're going to win.'”
Fisher's response: “I said, ‘All right, I'm going to go out there and win.' And that's how it went down.”
The call caught Fisher off guard.
“It was out of the blue, for sure,” he said. “I thought I'd still be the back end (bullpen) guy. I started my whole life; I never threw out of the bullpen until I got here. So it's not like starting is a new thing for me. I'm comfortable starting.”
And it showed.
Previously a late-inning reliever, working only 20 innings all season, Fisher made his case for replacing Overton in the rotation. Making his first start, the senior left-hander posted career-bests with 7 1/3 innings and 10 strikeouts, allowing seven hits and no runs.
He worked around some first-inning trouble, then settled in for an extended outing that took even Golloway by surprise.
“Did I think he would give us four or five solid yes?” Golloway said. “What he did was pretty special.”
Fisher had plenty of backing, with the Sooners jumping out to a 2-0 lead in their first at-bat, then tacking on runs, with Jack Mayfield's three-run home run in the fourth the big shot in a 15-hit attack.
Mayfield's blast, on a 1-2 pitch, easily cleared the wall in left-centerfield, boosting the lead to 5-0 in the fourth and giving Fisher comfort to work.