The big bats in Oklahoma’s lineup had fallen silent as the evening grew older, with a cream moon hung firmly over the right-field wall and the game in its second extra inning.
Kyle Mendenhall wasn’t going to let Friday night go on much longer.
OU’s senior second baseman swung at the first pitch thrown to him and sent a walk-off single into center field in the bottom of the 11th inning, lifting the Sooners to a 2-1 win over previously unbeaten Alabama at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
“The at-bat I had before, the guy I faced threw me three fastballs away,” Mendenhall said. “I just wanted to stay inside the baseball.
“I found the barrel.”
OU moves into Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against the Crimson Tide with some confidence in its offense, knowing that while the top of the order went 2 for 17, the bottom of the lineup pulled through.
Mendnehall bats seventh. In the 11th inning, he had pinch runner Blake Brewster at second base, after Alabama first baseman Hunter Alexander’s error put the leadoff runner aboard. Justin Mitchell’s sacrifice bunt moved the Sooners into scoring position.
The Sooners (5-5) scraped together a run on a night those were hard to come by, and played in their fourth extra-inning game this season. They’ve won two and lost two.
OU had 10 hits, but it didn’t translate into a big lead.
“I’d like for us to get a bigger lead. … Our pitchers are keeping us in it,” Mendenhall said.
Alabama had glitzy statistics coming in, averaging 10 runs per game and a .344 team batting average, but OU starting pitcher Jake Irvin held the Crimson Tide (9-1) to one run through seven innings, allowing just four hits.
He finished with 11 strikeouts, two of which ended a bases-loaded jam in the third inning.
“It’s big for momentum. You take the momentum out of their dugout and put it in [ours],” Irvin said.
OU’s Austin Hansen (1-1) worked a scoreless 11th inning and struck out Alabama’s John Trousdale with runners at first and second to end the frame without harm.
Sooner relievers Braidyn Fink, Connor Berry and Levi Prater allowed one hit combined in three combined innings before that. It was a shot in the arm for OU’s bullpen.
“I think that’s big. You get some confidence from that,” Johnson said.
OU had five hits through the first two innings, but with just one run to show for it after Kyler Murray’s sac-fly RBI to center field in the first.
Alabama tied it at 1-1 when Keith Holcombe blasted a double over OU left-fielder Cade Harris’ head in the sixth inning, scoring Hunter Alexander all the way from first base.
Murray hit from the clean-up spot and went 0 for 4. Steele Walker, OU’s leading hitter from a year ago, went 1 for 5 and saw his average dip to .190 in the young season.
While some of OU’s most notorious sluggers didn’t break from their slumps, the Sooners got a good night’s rest knowing it didn’t matter after Mendenhall’s game-winner.
“Everyone goes through it. Everyone’s gonna hit that rough patch,” Mendenhall said. “One through nine, everyone’s capable of [hitting]. … The biggest thing with us, is no matter who gets in the box, everyone has their back. Steele will get going. Those guys will get going. We have no doubt in our minds we’re gonna be all right.”
• Cooling off: Alabama entered the weekend with gaudy offensive numbers, which were bound to come down at some point.
OU pitcher Jake Irvin happened to be there to lower a few totals.
Left-fielder Keith Holcombe was hitting .625 with 11 RBIs to his name. He finished 1 for 3 against Irvin with two strikeouts.
Right-fielder Chandler Taylor came in with three home runs and finished 0 of 3 before Irvin was relieved.
• Heating up: Brylie Ware was slugging the ball well late last season, hitting all of his home runs in the late part of spring.
That didn’t translate to a fast start, as the Sedgwick, Kansas native had six hits and averaged .200 through OU’s first nine games.
Ware broke through a little against Alabama, going 2 for 3, including a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
Inside the game
Oklahoma thought it had a for-sure second run in the first inning, after Justin Mitchell ripped a single to right field and had Steele Walker barreling around third base for home.
The only problem was Alabama right-fielder Chandler Taylor’s arm.d
He delivered a perfect throw to home plate and catcher Sam Praytor made the easy tag for the inning’s final out, saving a run and robbing Mitchell of an RBI.
It was a defensive grind, played with zero errors through 10 innings. OU was happy for that experience, at least. The Sooners committed seven errors in a Feb. 18 game against Virginia Tech.
Alabama and OU play at 4 p.m. Saturday at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
Devon Perez (0-0, 5.62 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Sooners against Alabama’s Jake Walters (1-0, 5.73).