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March 19, 2014

Sooners use 4-run fifth to beat TCU 9-5

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For the ninth time in 10 games Oklahoma players slapped hands after the games as winners. This one coming in runaway, hold-on fashion in a 9-5 non-conference victory over conference foe Texas Christian (12-8).

Junior left fielder Hunter Haley hit two doubles in a game for the first time in his career, finishing 2-for-5 at the plate. While reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Sheldon Neuse drove home the Sooners first run of the game with a double of his own in the top of the first finishing the night 2-for-4 and quickly digging his squad out of a 1-0 hole. It was his second game in the last week to record a pair of doubles.

Four Oklahoma batters recorded multiple hit nights posting a total of 12 hits against a Horned Frog staff that boasts itself as one of the best in the country. And a bullpen that had allowed just six scoring frames in 17 innings of work posting a 1.62 ERA.

Horned Frog left handed relief hurler Alex Young came in with a 1.35 ERA and lasted just two innings giving up three runs on five hits.

"That's one of the better pitching staffs in the country. Their strikeout to walk ratio is ridiculous," said Oklahoma head coach Pete Hughes. "We got them out on the ropes and when we had a chance to get a hit. We got the big hit. I thought our guys did a great job offensively."

TCU, picked to finish second in the Big 12 behind Kansas State, tied the game in the top of fifth on a Dusty Delso pinch-hit RBI single to left field.

As they had done in the first two innings Oklahoma answered all three of the TCU scoring frames with runs of their own posting a four spot in the home half.

Haley broke the 3-3 tie with his second extra base hit of the game plating Hector Lorenzana (2-for-4 2 R). And a Niko Buentello RBI single followed by a passed ball allowed Haley to cross the plate giving Oklahoma a 7-3 lead after five innings.

"(There's) a lot of confidence through the whole line up," said Haley. "We preach it. Confidence. Just go out there and know that you're going to be one of the best players on the field right then and that's the way you've got to do it."

NO TIME TO PANIC

Five errors. A starter that recorded two outs. And a little luck after TCU left the bases loaded in both the seventh and eighth innings. A total of 14 stranded base runners on the night.

If Hughes was forced to pick one. He might just circle all of the above.

Entering Tuesday night's game versus TCU, Oklahoma posted a team fielding percentage of .959. I'll save you the exhaustion of 'Google' and tell you that's not good. Entering Tuesday night's non-conference tilt Oklahoma ranked No. 203 in the country in team fielding percentage having committed 32 errors on the season. That number rose to 37 after the Sooners No. 21 game of the season.

"I've been saying it non-stop. We've got to play better defense. We can't give up those runs on the weekend and expect to win," said Hughes of the Sooners season-high five errors.

For now it won't be needed to be brought up in the clubhouse. But don't be mislead to think it will go unnoticed. Defense is a cornerstone of Hughes evolving foundation in Norman.

Passed balls. Throwing behind runners. Misplayed groundballs. Dropped throws from across the diamond at first base. All mistakes that will come back to haunt Oklahoma when conference play begins. That story doesn't need to be told.

"Let's take care of the baseball. Let's play catch. The more you address those things they (seem to) take a life of their own," said Hughes. "We'll move on and practice our fundamentals and let these guys play without thinking so much. If I get on them and start talking about it, it'll just get over processed and expand itself."

DECISION ON ROTATION LOOMS

Connor Buchmann's first inning trouble added another speed bump in Hughes decision in settling on a starting rotation.

With a final tune-up prior to this weekend's conference opener coming today Hughes rotation remains in flux. Corey Copping (2-0 3.63 ERA 17.1 IP), Adam Choplick (2-1 3.86 ERA 28.0 IP), and Jake Elliott (2-2 2.87 ERA 31.1 IP) remain slotted for Friday through Sunday this weekend when the Wildcats come to town.

Hughes will look for young arms like Wednesday's starter Alec Hansen along with Octavio Rodriguez and Buchmann to build confidence through work in the midweek. While a host of arms out of the OU bullpen has made it possible, most notably the likes of Robert Tasin, Jacob Evans, Drew Krittenbrink, and Kyle Hayes.

Ralph Garza Jr., (3-0 1.02 ERA 17 IP) has found a home out of the bullpen with a team leading 4 saves in 13 appearances.

However, none could have the upside possessed by Hansen who will make his first career start after posting a 0.00 ERA in three appearances out of the bullpen. With the ability to hit triple digits, Hansen remains a darkhorse at cracking the Sooners starting rotation on down the road.

"We've got to develop some of the kid. There's too much talent there to just sit around," said Hughes. "We the need the talent to come through because if the talent comes through it's a serious arm."

Making his fourth start of the season Tuesday night Buchmann threw 30 pitches in the top of the first, beaning a pair of batters and walking two, hitting the strike zone just 15 times. It's nights like that, that Buchmann and- more importantly- Hughes, are forced to live with as inexperienced arms in the rotation gain confidence with each outing.

"He didn't have it (today) so okay," said Hughes. "We'll get him back on the mound next week. It'll be the same with Hansen. We've got to get him out there and get some confidence in himself and have a plan."

For a the most part of the year the plan has been turning to the aforementioned bullpen.

During a trio of extra inning victories last week the Sooners bullpen posted a 0.39 ERA in 23 innings of work. Tuesday night Tasin, Evans, Krittenbrink, and Hayes combined to carry the load after Buchmann's early exit.

Most notably Tasin striking out four over four innings of work escaping an inherited bases loaded, one out jam in the top of the first.

"He's like the rest of those guys out there (in the bullpen)," said Hughes. "They're dependable and they're strike throwers. Whenever you've got guys that like to throw strikes and compete they'll give you a chance. He dug us out of a bad start."

"They've been doing that all year."



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