OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is still alive.
Sheldon Neuse’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth inning capped a six-run late-inning rally that propelled the Sooners to a 9-8 victory over Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Sooners (29-28) advance to face the loser of tonight’s Oklahoma State-Texas game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
It was one of OU’s most improbable victories of the season. It trailed 8-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Sooners, which had lost 18 of its previous 23 games, including Wednesday’ 13-4 loss to Cowboys in their tournament opener, didn’t seem to have much life left.
That all changed when Craig Aikin stayed away from the tag of Texas Tech catcher Tyler Floyd and dove safely into home plate for the game-winning run.
“I got goose bumps immediately,” Aikin said. “I looked up and saw the umpire and could tell we were on the same page. I didn’t know coming around the bag. I saw (the catcher) keep sliding to his left and kind of getting into my lane. I thought I was going to have to go to the inside, but I was doing whatever I could to touch home plate. I knew I slipped just past him and he wasn’t going to be able to put a glove on me.”
It capped an improbable rally. The Sooners scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth and three more in the ninth to get the victory.
Aikin went 4 for 6 and drove in three runs. Neuse drove in four runs during his 2-for-6 afternoon. The last two sent Kolbey Carpenter and Aikin home for the game-tying and game-winning runs.
It was Carpenter’s solo home run to lead off the eighth inning that ignited the comeback.
“I just went up there and tried not to do too much. I just tried to get on base. Luckily, I was waiting on a fast ball. I was able to square it up and get started,” he said.
Prior to that, Texas Tech (40-17) was in complete control, largely due to OU’s first-inning fielding woes.
OU shortstop Hector Lorenzana slipped after he fielded a routine grounder from Texas Tech’s Sheldon Smith to start the game. It was the first of two errors and first of four defensive lapses for the Sooners, all in the first inning.
The second of those errors was on starting pitcher Jacob Evans on a sacrifice bunt attempt. After giving up four runs in the first inning, he could have packed it in.
Evans did not.
“We didn’t give him support in the first inning. We probably gave them six outs but he kept his composure and kept pitching,” OU coach Pete Hughes said. “He definitely minimized some situations that allowed us to come back and win in the ninth inning.”
Kindle Ladd (5-3) gave up two hits in the ninth inning, but got out of a bases-loaded jam to end the inning. He picked up the win.
The Red Raiders did not get out of those jams. Cameron Smith (7-2) took the loss.
“Everyone we rolled in there is going to have to get some outs for us and I’m sure they will,” said Texas Tech coach and former OU assistant Tim Tadlock. “We just have to go day to day and I think we have to commend (OU) for really fighting back and doing a good job competing the rest of the game.”
Living to fight another day remains OU’s only goal. Thursday was an elimination game as will be everyone it plays the rest of the way.
“We know all it takes is a lot of hard luck and character. If you want to win it, you’ll find a way into the championship game and you’ll pull it out,” Aikin said. “We have a lot of heart on this team and a lot of resiliency. We’re gonna keep fighting.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is still alive.
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