Defense quietly playing big role in Sooners' success

Oklahoma’s John Spikerman (8) catches a fly ball Friday in right field for the final out against Virginia Tech during an NCAA college tournament in super regional game Blacksburg, Virginia.

A big key for Oklahoma’s run to the College World Series has been its offense.

The Sooners ended the regular season with one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and that’s continued in the postseason. The team has scored five or more runs in nine of its 11 games since the Big 12 Tournament, and it ranks 20th nationally in total runs scored (491).

But one thing that’s subtly played a huge role in the Sooners’ postseason success has been their defense, and there was no bigger example of that than their 11-2 win over Virginia Tech Sunday to clinch the NCAA Super Regional. The team allowed just two hits and made several key outfield plays to keep Virginia Tech from finding a rhythm.

It was a big bounce back performance for the Sooners’ defense after allowing the Hokies to score 14 runs in Game 2.

“One thing we take pride in is we’re trying to get better every week,” OU coach Skip Johnson said. “For example, you’re on a Sunday game and you’re going into the next week — Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday — you want to get better. What’d you learn from last week going into this week? Our defense has gotten better throughout the year.”

The defense has showed up more often than not in the postseason. The Sooners have surrendered four runs or fewer in all but two postseason games, including an 8-1 dominant performance against Texas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Defense has been an emphasis for Johnson and his staff all season, particularly as offenses are becoming more potent with each season.

“I think that’s a tribute to what we try to do every day — practice defense,” Johnson said. “Defense is really what matters in the game. It’s a crazy game that defense has the ball, not offense.”

It starts on the mound for the Sooners. The team had three pitchers finish top 10 in ERA in the conference — Jake Bennett, Trevin Michael and Chazz Martinez — and they’ve gotten key contributions from their bullpen at different points during the year.

But the Sooners’ field players have made a commitment to defense, too. One key example came in the fourth inning Sunday against Virginia Tech, when Kendall Pettis jumped and flipped over the left-field wall before coming down with a fly ball to record the second out of the frame. Shortly after, Pettis hit a home run in the sixth inning to help put the game away.

“I just try to do whatever I can do on defense,” Pettis said after the game. “I know offense is going to be up and down. Hitting is really hard. But on defense, whatever play I can make, I know I can go get it. Whatever I can do on defense, I try to do it and just let the offense [come].”

Focusing on defense, and plays like the one Pettis made, can also be pivotal in helping the offense find momentum, Johnson said.

“You see this in baseball — it’s a funny thing in the spirit of the game — a guy makes a great play [and he follows] it with a big hit,” Johnson said. “[Pettis] got a big hit in the game. and then you put a guy in a position that he hasn’t performed in, the ball’s always going to find him.”

The defense could find itself tested starting this weekend.

While Texas A&M hasn’t had one of the best offenses — the Aggies rank 40th nationally in total runs (451) — they’ve played better in the playoffs. They’ve averaged nearly 7.9 runs per game in eight postseason outings, including a 15-run performance against TCU during the regional tournament.

Game time for the Sooners’ game against Texas A&M in Omaha, Nebraska is set for 1 p.m.

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