This isn’t the way first-year Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes wanted it to be.
He wanted his Sooners to arrive at the Big 12 Tournament playing for position in the postseason instead of fighting for the chance to continue their season past this week.
“Obviously, you talk about our season and we’re disappointed,” Hughes said.
The Sooners enter Wednesday’s 4 p.m. tournament opener against Oklahoma State knowing their path to an NCAA regional.
At 28-27, the Sooners must win the tournament to advance to the postseason.
“We’re certainly backed up in a corner, but sometimes those teams are dangerous,” Hughes said.
Oklahoma feels confident in its chances this week despite the Sooners’ struggles throughout the season.
The Sooners’ offense has been one of the best in the league all season, and the pitching turned in its best series in more than a month, allowing only seven runs in the last regular-season series against the same Cowboys lineup they’ll face in the opener.
“They did an unbelievable job this past weekend,” Sooners utility man Mac James said. “That’s a really good offense they’ve got over there — several hitters that are at the top of the league.
“They were really good at the beginning of the year so we knew what they could do, it’s just a matter of them showing it.”
A big component in showing it has been the addition of starter Jake Elliott back into the rotation near the end of the season after Elliott missed five weeks with an injury.
In the two starts he made after his return, Elliott threw eight innings, allowing one earned run and just five hits.
“It created a depth problem in our bullpen because we had to move a bullpen guy into our rotation,” Hughes said of Elliott’s absence. “It’s been big. Anytime you know you’re going to get a quality start out there, it helps you. It gives your team a peace of mind that they can get settled into a game and know they’re going to get a quality start.”
Elliott likely would’ve pitched longer in Friday’s eventual 2-1 loss to OSU but was limited by a pitch count so he could be ready for the tourney opener against the Cowboys.
“We’ve seen them a bunch so we should know how to attack them and how to exploit their weaknesses,” Elliott said. “They lead the Big 12 in walks and they also lead the Big 12 in home runs. They’re very selective but they will make you pay if they get a hitter’s count so it’s very important to get ahead and stay ahead throwing strikes.”
The Sooners’ confidence can go out the door quickly if the opener doesn’t go their way, though.
“It all depends on Game 1 and getting out of the gates,” Hughes said. “That’s the pivotal game. You’ve got to win Game 1. You don’t want to be in the losing bracket in this thing. It’s a tough way to live.”