NCAA baseball: OU Sooners score 16 unanswered runs beat Liberty Flames in regional opener

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Facing a three-run deficit in the first inning, the region's No. 2 seed, Oklahoma, appeared in danger of opening the NCAA Tournament with a defeat at the hands of the Liberty Flames.

The bottom half of the opening frame proved fruitless on the scoreboard, though it was far too soon for the Sooners to fret.

A four-run second inning gave Oklahoma the lead, and OU made sure not to relinquish the advantage by scoring 16 unanswered runs en route to defeating the Flames, 16-3, at Condron Ballpark in Game 1 of the Gainesville Regional. 

“You never know what’s going to happen in a regional game,” Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said. “I thought it was a great offensive day. We really separated balls from strikes most of the day, which is really good. We got some big hits in some key moments.”

Liberty managed three runs off as many hits in the first inning despite starting pitcher Jake Bennett striking out a pair of Flames. The Sooners managed singles from John Spikerman and Blake Robertson in the bottom of the first, but Spikerman was picked off at first and Tanner Tredaway flied out to end the inning, stranding a pair of batters.

Liberty couldn't add to its early advantage in the second inning, and it would come back to bite the Flames in the bottom of the frame. 

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Jimmy Crooks led off the second inning with a double down the left field line, and Crooks would come home on Wallace Clark’s single to left, and the Sooners were on the scoreboard. Clark advanced to second on a wild pitch, and he would head to third on a groundout by Brett Squires. Kendall Pettis’ home run, just his third of the season, scored Clark, tying the game at three runs apiece. Having gotten through the order, Spikerman returned to the plate and hit a first-pitch home run over the right-field wall. 

In the span of just two pitches, the Sooners had turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. 

“He hit one,” Spikerman said, “and I think I was more pumped up for his than I was for mine. It was pretty cool.”

Following a scoreless third, Spikerman brought two additional runs across the plate in the fourth inning with a single to right center, giving him three RBI through four innings. 

The Sooners blew the game wide open in the fifth inning, turning a three-run game into a double-digit deficit for the Flames. Oklahoma proceeded to load the bases with no outs, where Jackson Nicklaus’ single up the middle scored a pair of runs.

Squires would follow Nicklaus’ single with one of his own to plate another run, Spikerman added his fourth RBI and Peyton Graham’s grand slam pushed the score to 14-3 – all with just one out at the plate. Oklahoma may not have been able to add to its total, but the damage had been done. 

“Peyton’s going to go out and play hard, and that’s the thing,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you worry about him trying too hard instead of just playing his role on the team, like a spark plug does with an engine, so to speak.”

Bennett exited in the sixth inning having tossed 76 strikes across 112 pitches. Carson Atwood took over on the mound for Bennett to finish the sixth inning and get OU through the seventh before Aaron Calhoun entered in the eighth inning to close the game for the Sooners.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this game, and getting those guys out there and saving some arms for tomorrow, and hopefully the next couple days,” Johnson said, “is really good.”

Oklahoma again loaded the bases in the seventh inning, and Jimmy Crooks’ two-RBI double to left with two outs extended the Sooners’ commanding lead to 16-3.

With the victory, the Sooners now await word of their opponent. Oklahoma will face No. 1 seed Florida at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.

“We just started to click late in the season,” Pettis said, “and hopefully we can just keep taking this into the playoffs.”

More:Examining Oklahoma Sooners' foes in the NCAA baseball Gainesville Regional

OU starting pitcher Jake Bennett (54) throws against Liberty in the first round of the NCAA baseball tournament Friday in Gainesville, Fla.

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