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Oklahoma schools fare well in NCAA tournament bracket

Monday, May 25, 2009 | 7:55 p.m. CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — All three of Oklahoma's major-college baseball teams received positive news on Monday with the revelation of the 64-team NCAA tournament bracket.

Oklahoma (41-18) already knew it would host a four-team regional as a No. 1 seed, but the Sooners found out they also are the tournament's overall No. 7 seed, meaning if they win their regional, they'll host a super regional the following weekend.

Oral Roberts (31-13) received a regional No. 2 seed, which coach Rob Walton called a show of respect for the program from the oft-maligned Summit League. The Golden Eagles will play Cal Poly (37-19) in Tempe, Ariz., with a game against Pacific-10 Conference champion Arizona State or Kent State after that.

And Oklahoma State (32-22) surprised many by receiving an at-large berth — and a No. 3 seed — after not qualifying for the eight-team Big 12 Conference tournament. The Cowboys are headed to Clemson, S.C., where they will face second-seeded Alabama (37-19) in a four-team regional that includes Clemson and Tennessee Tech.

Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson said the Cowboys "went about our business this week and practiced as usual" but didn't talk much about their potential NCAA tournament chances, especially after winning only two of nine series in Big 12 play.

"You have no control over it at this point," he said. "We had control on the field and we didn't win at the end of the conference season. Fortunately our early season helped us out a lot."

Oklahoma State isn't the first team to make the NCAA tournament without qualifying for a conference tournament — a handful of Southeastern Conference schools, including Florida and Arkansas, have done the same in the past.

The Cowboys are grateful for the mulligan, and with a talented starting rotation in Andrew Oliver, Tyler Lyons and Tyler Blandford, they could be a tough tournament opponent.

"Anything can happen at this point," Anderson said. "We've got three pretty good pitchers to start out there, and if they pitch well, we've got a chance."

Anderson said Oklahoma State wouldn't mind following the path blazed last season by Oklahoma, which received a controversial at-large NCAA berth after barely making the Big 12 field. The Sooners advanced to a regional championship game.

Should Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts both advance, they would meet in a super regional, either in Tulsa or Stillwater.

Oklahoma, which finished second in the Big 12 in the regular season, will host fourth-seeded Wichita State (30-25) in the Norman regional, with second-seeded Arkansas (34-22) and third-seeded Washington State (31-23) rounding out the field.

Ironically, the Sooners have played all three of those teams this season, splitting four games at Washington State early in the season, losing 8-7 in 10 innings at Arkansas in late April and routing Wichita State in a home-and-home series, 15-0 and 8-1.

"That doesn't happen very often, where you play all three," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said.

Wichita State developed into a national power under longtime coach Gene Stephenson, who famously took the Oklahoma coaching job four years ago, only to return to the Kansas school a day later. Stephenson's accomplishments include guiding the Shockers to the 1989 NCAA title.

But the Shockers fell on hard times this season, posting by far their lowest win total during Stephenson's 32-year run, and made the NCAA field only after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Wichita. In a 4-2 win over Creighton in the MVC title game, Wichita State pitchers issued 12 walks but Creighton stranded 17 baserunners.

Golloway said he's not concerned that the Sooners might be overconfident against the Shockers.

"We have a very mature club," Golloway said. "... Our guys don't treat any opponent differently. We respect the game of baseball and we try not to worry about opponents."

While Golloway is thrilled with the overall No. 7 seed, saying it "is a respect factor from the NCAA and your peers," he also said that to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., the Sooners cannot look past the game with Wichita State.

The high seed "assures you of the ability to stay at home on the road to Omaha," he said, "but there are no guarantees."

About the only guarantee in recent years is that Oral Roberts will win the Summit League title — the Golden Eagles have done so 12 straight years. They've also enjoyed NCAA tournament success, even reaching a super regional in 2006.

Oral Roberts is a No. 2 seed for the first time since 2004 and is making its 21st regional appearance.

"We find ourselves on the map as a baseball program," Walton said.

The Golden Eagles are led by Summit League player and pitcher of the year Mark Serrano, a senior right-hander who is 9-0 with a 2.42 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 78.0 innings. Serrano ranks second in Division I in strikeouts per nine innings at 13.73. The Golden Eagles are tops in the nation in that category at 10.7.

"We've had some special performances on the mound," Walton said. "That's what will have to happen for us to have success in the tournament."

 


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