By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — The disappointment of a midweek loss as it prepares for a key Big 12 Conference series isn’t a new feeling for Oklahoma. The loss to Dallas Baptist was another hit to its hopes for hosting an NCAA tournament.
However, it was not a knockout punch. What happens in the final three weekends of the regular season will have a much bigger impact. The road starts with three games against West Virginia at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va., beginning at 5:30 p.m. today.
“This weekend is going to be really big,” first baseman Matt Oberste said. “We have to go up there and win the series. If we win the series, that will keep us in the race.”
The race is very tight. OU (33-12, 10-5) has a percentage points lead over Baylor (25-20, 11-6) with nine games to go. Baylor just has two series left. The difference is a rainout during the Bears’ series against Oklahoma State back in March.
In third place sit both Kansas State (32-14, 9-6) and the Mountaineers (27-19, 9-6). The schedule sets up for OU to either pull away or get dragged down in the final three weeks of the season.
Few predicated West Virginia, playing in the Big 12 Conference for the first time, would be much of a threat this season. Instead, the Mountaineers have been the surprise team of the league. They took two of three from Texas April 19-21 and are coming off a three-game sweep of Kansas.
OU coach Sunny Golloway isn’t surprise by West Virginia’s success.
“I understand the psychology of college baseball,” he said. “If you tell me we’re going to finish dead last, I promise you we won’t, because we have nowhere to go but up. Absolutely, you’re loose as a goose and that’s how you want to play this game.”
The other aspect to the Mountaineers’ success has been playing well, or at least close to it.
The Mountaineers are building a new ballpark in Morgantown that will open next year. They’ve been playing their Big 12 Conference home series at different minor league parks throughout the state.
Nonetheless, the Mountaineers are 12-2 in those games.
“Everyone traveling there seems to have had a difficult time. For whatever reasons, teams have had a difficult time going in there and winning ball games,” Golloway said. “We don’t plan on going in there and having a difficult time.”
The degree of difficulty getting there isn’t factored into the outcome. The Sooners have to win to maintain their minimal edge in the Big 12 standings.
The point Golloway has been getting across to his team is that despite being ranked in the top 13 of four major college baseball polls, its postseason foundation is still shaky.
The Big 12’s status as a power league is gone. Therefore, winning it is about the only way to guarantee an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t know if that’s actually the problem,” outfielder Max White said. “It has been in the past. I remember going 16-0 my sophomore year and guys did start getting big heads. This is a good club with a good head on its shoulders.”
The latter attitude will be needed this weekend. These three games at West Virginia are going to have huge implications on the conference race and the postseason.