NORMAN — Once again, the Sooners were left to witness a wild celebration.
And to wonder: what might have been?
Oklahoma dogpiled this year — twice — winning championships at the Big 12 Baseball Tournament and at the Blacksburg Regional. But those weren't the ultimate dogpiles sought, with the team falling again in its quest to return to the College World Series.
LSU made sure of that, sweeping the Sooners and seizing a spot in Omaha, where the CWS begins later this week at TD Ameritrade Park.
“Hopefully we can get the Sooners to Ameritrade and play in the new ballpark soon,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “It just wasn't meant to be this year.”
Except it sure looked to be the year, with the Sooners fully armed with the one key ingredient: starting pitching. Jonathan Gray and Dillon Overton, co-aces by most accounts, as well as first-day MLB draft picks, had OU positioned for a run to Omaha.
And the Sooners made a run, yet only so far.
Regrets? Sure, namely inconsistent offense and defense, heaping too much pressure on the pitchers.
A full review of the season reveals that the Sooners were an incomplete club. After a strong start, noted by a move into the top 10 in the polls, OU sputtered down the stretch of the Big 12, losing its final three league series and finishing tied for third in the standings, two games over .500 at 13-11.
More than that, Golloway regretted his club's midweek struggles, resulting in five losses to the likes of Texas-Arlington, Arkansas-Little Rock and Dallas Baptist.
“I feel we really didn't lose a chance to get to Omaha (over the) weekend,” Golloway said. “I feel like we lost it when we lost those midweek games to Dallas Baptist, Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington.
“If we'd won those five games, I don't know if we would have been a national seed, but we probably could've hosted a regional and maybe we don't get matched up with a team like LSU.”
The season won't go down as a failure, far from it.
The Sooners won 40 games or more for the fifth straight season. They extended the program's streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to six straight and advanced to a third Super Regional in four years.
“I've never had so much fun on a baseball team my entire life than I did with these guys,” Overton said after the final loss at LSU. “It's a blast coming to the yard every day. And I'm going to miss it.”
So the charge to return to Omaha spins ahead to next year.
There's some rebuilding to do, starting with the entire weekend pitching rotation. Center fielder Max White and shortstop Jack Mayfield, who played on Sooner teams that amassed 176 wins, are seniors moving on. Third baseman Garrett Carey is also a senior. Matt Oberste, the team's best hitter, sounded like he was gone after being picked in the seventh round by the New York Mets.
“They've been my favorite team,” Oberste said Friday. “… To be in that organization now is just great.”
Left fielder Craig Aikin, catcher Anthony Hermelyn and pitcher Jacob Evans thrived in roles as freshmen and offer a strong core to build around. And Golloway and his staff have recruited well, with another class of touted prospects on the way.
“I wish the guys who are going to be on the team next year the best of luck,” Overton said. “And they're going to be great in this program. It's fun to come into a program like this and just win ballgames the way we do.”