NORMAN — Everything seems to be falling into place for Oklahoma's baseball team to possibly make a deep postseason run.
The Sooners snapped out of their offensive slump and won last weekend's Big 12 Tournament. Junior pitcher Dillon Overton, who has battled elbow inflammation for much of the past month, threw five scoreless innings in one of those victories and said he's “pretty close” to being 100 percent.
Taking only a cursory glance at the Blacksburg Regional field, one might assume the Sooners are a safe bet Friday afternoon against Coastal Carolina, which earned an at-large bid out of the Big South Conference.
The Chanticleers (37-21) don't carry much name recognition, but absolutely shouldn't be underestimated.
Coastal Carolina is one of only 11 programs — along with Florida State, Miami, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Rice and Cal-State Fullerton — to reach an NCAA Tournament regional in each of the last seven years.
CCU also played a tough nonconference schedule that included 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament field. The Chanticleers were 8-10 in those games, including a February victory over Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas State.
“I'm that guy that loves the underdog role,” said Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore. “That's who I am and what I'm about. It's something that we've used to get kids here, to develop kids and to get them to buy into what we're trying to do.”
That chip-on-the-shoulder mentality has bred lots of success. The Chanticleers have earned postseason bids in 11 of the past 12 seasons, and reached Super Regionals in 2008 and 2010.
Junior center fielder Jacob May leads the team with a .321 batting average and six home runs this year. He said the key to victory against Oklahoma and its dominant starting pitchers is keeping the score low.
“It's not gonna be an eight-, nine-run game,” May said. “We'll take our runs when we get them, take advantage of every opportunity we get.
“Small ball is one of the key parts of our game, doing anything we can do to get guys in scoring position.”
OU coach Sunny Golloway said Tuesday that he still hadn't decided if ace Jonathan Gray or Overton would start against Coastal Carolina.
Coastal Carolina's pitching staff carries a solid 3.16 ERA into the postseason. Sophomore Ben Smith has started 15 games, going 5-3 with a 2.19 ERA.
Oklahoma finally broke out of its excruciating late-season funk. The Sooners entered the Big 12 Tournament having lost nine of their last 12 games, but were a perfect 4-0 last weekend, claiming their first conference title since 1997.
“A lot of teams go through bad spells just like we did,” Overton said. “It's gonna happen no matter what. ... Right now, we kinda turned it on at the exact right time and we're fortunate for that.”
Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, enters the postseason on a two-game skid. CCU was eliminated from its conference tournament after dropping back-to-back games last Friday.
Still, May said the Chanticleers' tough schedule and their postseason experience has prepared them for the challenges Oklahoma presents.
“We've played some pretty good competition,” May said. “Those really were games where we got to learn and see who we really are. We take pride in showing we can play with those guys.
“Hopefully, we can shock the world.”