Until one late mistake pitch Wednesday morning, Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney was wowing everybody – the Oklahoma Sooners included – at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
“He is arguably one of the best left-handers I've seen,” said OU coach Sunny Golloway.
To beat Heaney, which the Sooners did 1-0 on a dramatic walk-off home run by Garrett Carey in the bottom of the ninth inning, they had to have an answer on the mound. And OU got it from starter Dillon Overton and closer Steven Okert, who blanked the Cowboys, allowing just six hits and striking out 10 and helping secure an opening win at the Big 12 Tournament.
The Sooners advance to play top-seeded Baylor at 4 p.m. Thursday. OU was the only team to take a Big 12 series from the Bears in the regular season, sweeping their three games in Norman two weekends ago.
While the Sooners might not have a headliner the likes of Heaney, the Big 12's Pitcher of the Year, they've got aces in supply, one reason they're built for this time of year. Against the Cowboys, OU didn't even throw its acknowledged No. 1, Jordan John. Or its No. 2, Jonathan Gray.
Okert has become a force out of the bullpen. Then there's Damien Magnifico, the 100-mph marvel.
“It's just taken us a while,” Golloway said. “I really felt our pitchers, step for step, are as good as anybody's, if not deeper than anybody we faced all year.”
Taking a while meant finding the right roles for John and Okert.
“That was on me,” Golloway said. “I had Jordan John coming out of the bullpen. And I had Big Oak starting.”
Now, when it matters most, the Sooners seem to be lined up just right.
Paired against Heaney, Overton sure didn't bow down.
“There was a little bit of pressure, but you're out there playing the game you love like you do every other day,” Overton said. “Fortunately, it worked out really well for me.
“I knew coming in there, I had to match up with the best left-hander in the country, almost. Fortunately, it worked.”
If the Sooners can just match up with their bats.
Fortunately, OU got a lift from the unlikeliest of sources Wednesday, with the nine-hole hitter Carey batting a cool .210 entering the game.
“We've been hard on him,” Golloway said. “But he's such a great defender we've stayed with him. For him to hit that out, probably the most unlikely candidate…”
Even when he hit it, Carey wasn't sure.
“I've been hitting the ball pretty hard right at people, so I wasn't exactly getting my hopes up,” Carey said. “But after I rounded first, I saw it clear.”
Until Carey's shot, neither team had managed a real threat, with no runner advancing as far as third base.
Heaney carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning and Overton was perfect through 4 2/3. The Cowboys' first two batters in the eighth inning reached, but Overton struck out Gage Green, who failed twice to bunt. Okert was then summoned, and he got out of the jam, before pitching a perfect ninth.
Then came the game's one big swing.
“Garrett Carey's a guy who has struggled at the plate,” Golloway said. “But the best thing Garrett's done is he's been tough all year. We continue to make adjustments at the plate. He buys in, never questions what we do.
“When the ball left the yard and he came around third, what I told him is, ‘How about you. Good for you.'”