NORMAN, Okla. — Brylie Ware had showered, slipped out of his uniform and into a pair of soft shorts and cozy long-sleeved tee. An Oklahoma cap still rested on his head.
L. Dale Mitchell Park was mostly empty, but Ware wanted one last look after the Sooners’ final regular-season home series this season. He stood near the third-base line and stared into the outfield, pacing without any real direction while family and friends snapped a few photos.
He’d been playing baseball for the previous three and a half hours. It didn’t dawn on him until later that this senior day was actually for him.
“I didn’t really think about it until we started singing the OU chant (after the game),” Ware said. “That’s when it hit me. This is my last time on this field singing [it] with my team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been a blessing.”
Ware’s experience is a rare luxury for the Sooners this season. They have just three seniors, and while team captain Blake Brewster’s presence has an impact, Ware is the lone veteran regularly in the hitting lineup
Ahead of a three-game series at Texas (25-25, 6-14 Big 12) this weekend, OU’s young roster still has some work remaining to mathematically clinch a spot in the Big 12 tournament.
Assuming the bottom four teams in the Big 12 all play three games, there is only one scenario — a Texas sweep, coupled with Kansas State winning two games at Kansas — that could keep the Sooners (31-20, 9-12) out of the Big 12 tournament for the first time in school history.
OU can guarantee a berth with one victory, which is why Ware’s recent slump-busting weekend is important. After going 2 for 23 over his previous six games, Ware hit .333 in three games against Oklahoma State.
He was 2 for 3 with an RBI in the series finale Sunday.
“‘Cash (hitting coach Clay Overcash) has always preached it this year: Just go back to basics,” Ware said. “That’s what I’m doing, I’m going back to basics and I feel more relaxed up at the plate, to be honest.”
Ware led all junior college players with 29 home runs as a freshman at Neosho (Kansas) Community College in 2016. He needs just 11 hits to reach the 200-hit mark at OU and is one of 41 other Sooners in school history to reach 100 hits, 100 RBIs and 100 runs over a career.
But his offensive production, like OU’s as a whole, has fluctuated at times this spring. His current .279 average is lower than his combined .314 average his first two seasons as a Sooner.
Which is why his recent turnaround could make a difference in OU’s fight for an NCAA postseason berth. As of last week, Baseball America projected the Sooners on the outside looking in.
Ware began the season with a similar slump, hitting below .200 through the first seven games before exploding for five RBIs against Rice on March 9.
“It’s kind of weird. Brylie does that. But when he does that, he might get hot for a month,” OU coach Skip Johnson said. “I’m really never worried about Brylie. Maybe he’s trying too hard, or we’re getting him in a position in the lineup where he’s trying too hard instead of a position where he can just go hit.”
Ware isn’t worried about himself either, or about overpowering pitchers anymore — something he thought about a lot his first season in Norman. Since then, he’s learned about hitting gap-to-gap and become an improved defender.
As for the way his and OU’s story will end this season?
“We’ve just got to go out and have fun,” Ware said.
OU weekly schedule
• Game: OU (31-20, 9-12 Big 12) at Texas (25-25, 6-14 Big 12)
• Time: 6:30 p.m.
• Place: UFCU Disch-Falk Field | Austin, Texas
• Radio: KREF 1400 am | 99.3 FM
• TV: Longhorn Network
• Friday: at Texas (6:30 p.m.)
• Saturday: at Texas (2:30 p.m.)