By JOHN SHINN
OKLAHOMA CITY — The last two times Jonathan Gray took the mound, Oklahoma lost. Gray made sure there wouldn’t be a three-peat Thursday in the first game of the Big 12 tournament at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Sooners’ ace threw a complete-game three-hitter to lead the Sooners to a 2-0 victory over Baylor.
“I thought, really, our performance today was about Jon Gray. I think that’s pretty clear,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said.
That could be seen even with storm clouds still hanging over the ballpark. The game started 3 1/2-hours late due to the morning thunderstorms that soaked Oklahoma City.
The delay might have been the reason Gray started the day with a wild streak. His first six pitches missed the strike zone, bringing an early visit from catcher Anthony Hermelyn.
“Sometimes you have to go out there and settle the big guy down,” the OU catcher said. “He’s got great stuff and you have to remind him he has great stuff and to have confidence with it. He showed the confidence throughout the game.”
It showed in the last two innings. Gray (9-2) struck out four of the last six Bears that came to the plate. The 12 strikeouts he notched matched his career high.
What was the difference between Gray on Thursday and his previous two starts?
“I felt like the big difference was just being mentally comfortable with everything,” Gray said. “It was not so much the game itself or how I feel. It was just building the confidence and keeping it throughout the game.”
Baylor (27-26) seemed more baffled by what they saw as the game went on.
“The guy throws 97 (miles per hour) but takes off on his fastball, which I thought was very effective against me,” Baylor right fielder Nathan Orf said. “You’re expecting a 97 mile-per-hour fastball and when you’re getting low-90s from the same arm slot, it makes it tough. He executed in and out, off-speed, just a great performance.”
The Sooners (37-19) needed it. Whether it must win the Big 12 tournament to get into next week’s NCAA tournament is debatable. Winning games, however, removes doubt.
Thursday’s win allowed OU to build a winning streak — two games — for the first time since late April. It looked a lot more like the team that appeared be the class of the conference in early April than the team that stumbled down the stretch.
One of the reasons for the struggles was that OU lost games to Oklahoma State and Kansas State with Gray on the mound.
The Sooners got back to their pillars of winning. They grabbed the lead early and let their bell cow carry them the rest of the way.
Jack Mayfield gave the Sooners that critical early run with a double down the left-field line to score Craig Aikin in the bottom of first inning.
“When we have Big Jon on the mound, we kind of struggle to score runs because they are usually throwing their Friday guy, too,” Mayfield said. “That first inning was big. We called two hit-and-runs and I fouled those off. I was fortunate to keep that ball fair down the line and once I got that, I knew Jon was going to settle in and he just dominated out there.”
Hector Lorenzana tacked on the final run with an RBI single to bring home Max White in the third inning. OU wasn’t an offensive juggernaut by any stretch. It only had six hits.
Baylor’s Dillon Newman (3-4) went the distance as well. He held the Sooners to those six hits over eight innings.
But he wasn’t Gray’s equal. Newman wasn’t the most dominant pitcher in college baseball.
“I’ve seen really good arms come through this Big 12 tournament. An overall performance like that is pretty special,” Golloway said. “We don’t take it for granted.”