Craig Aikin got goosebumps, Pete Hughes breathed a sigh of relief and Oklahoma celebrated an improbable season-extending 9-8 win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 Baseball Tournament on Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Sheldon Neuse delivered a two-run, walk-off single to complete the comeback that started when the Sooners were down by five in the eighth inning.
Aikin, OU’s hottest hitter in the tournament, barely beat the throw from Tech rightfielder Stephen Smith and just caught the tip of the plate as he dove around Red Raiders catcher Tyler Floyd’s tag to send the Sooners into a celebratory dogpile on the field.
“I looked up and saw the umpire and could tell we were on the same page,” Aikin said. “I didn’t know coming around the bag. I saw the kid (Floyd) keep sliding to his left and kinda getting into my lane. I thought I was going to have to go inside, but I was doing whatever I could to touch home plate.
“I knew I slipped just past him, and he wasn’t going to be able to put a glove on me.”
The Sooners (29-28) advance to play the loser of Thursday night’s late game between Oklahoma State and Texas at 7 p.m. Friday.
The win assured OU of finishing .500 or better for the 11th consecutive season.
Twice, the Sooners trailed by five runs.
Two first-inning errors helped the Red Raiders score four runs and then they added another in the fourth.
“Guys put their head down, never watched the scoreboard, keep grinding, keep playing and give yourself an opportunity to get a big hit to win a game and we did it,” said Hughes, the Sooners’ first-year coach. “But it doesn’t happen without a bunch of guys that are scrapping — not scoreboard watching.”
And that tone was set by Sooners starter Jacob Evans, who fought through five innings to give OU a chance to work its way back.
The offense didn’t start to come to life until the eighth, with the Sooners trailing 8-3.
Kolbey Carpenter got OU going with a leadoff home run and then things started rolling from there.
OU added two more in the eighth and then scored three in the ninth with the help of a pair of hit batters to come out with the win.
“The only thing running through my head was drive something deep in the outfield to tie this thing up right here,” Neuse said. “I got a breaking ball up and away, and I just went with it.”
The eighth-seeded Sooners must now win four more games in a row to win the tournament for the second consecutive season and advance to next week’s NCAA Regionals.
“We know we belong here,” Aikin said. “We might be the low seed, but we played the eighth seed (Kansas, actually the six seed last year) in the championship game. We know all it takes is a lot of hard work and character. If you want to win it, you’ll find a way into the championship game and you’ll pull it out.
“We have a lot of heart on this team and a lot of resiliency. We’re gonna keep fighting.”