OMAHA, Neb. — Oklahoma's baseball players came to the College World Series calling themselves “a bunch of Davids," a nod to their embrace of the underdog identity they adopted after an underwhelming start to the season.
It was one David — David Sandlin — who got most of the credit Wednesday for taking down Texas A&M, the last of the national seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Sandlin held the Aggies to one run and struck out a career-high 12 in seven innings, Jimmy Crooks’ three-run homer in the first held up and Oklahoma advanced to the CWS finals with a 5-1 victory.
Trying to complete a softball-baseball title sweep, the Sooners (45-22) have won three straight games at Charles Schwab Field by no fewer than four runs and will play for their first national championship since 1994.
Oklahoma's opponent in the best-of-three finals starting Saturday will be either Arkansas or Mississippi. Arkansas beat Ole Miss 3-2 on Wednesday night to force another game Thursday.
As Sooners fans chanted “O-U! O-U!” closer Trevin Michael struck out Brett Minnich to end the game against the Aggies. The celebration was subdued.
“I think those kids are focused,” coach Skip Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s dog-piling or whatever it is... It’s kind of weird sometimes. I don’t tell them not to dog-pile, I can tell you that.”
Texas A&M (44-20) finished 2-2 in the CWS under first-year coach Jim Schlossnagle after going 29-27, winning only nine Southeastern Conference games and not even qualifying for the league tournament in 2021.
The Sooners didn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team after losing two of their first three Big 12 series and starting 18-12. They’ve won 27 of 37, including 12 of 14 since the end of the regular season.
Sandlin, in his first season with the Sooners after transferring from a junior college, had pitched one-third of an inning of relief in the Sooners' 13-8 win over the Aggies on Friday. He was tagged for four runs.
The purpose of that appearance was to prepare Sandlin for the heightened atmosphere. It turned out to be a good plan. Sandlin said he had tried too hard in his brief appearance and took a different approach Wednesday.
“I just trusted my preparation,” he said. “I feel like today was more muscle memory than anything else. Just going out there and he just executing, don’t think about things too much.”
Sandlin (9-4), who allowed five hits and walked one in his 100-pitch outing, effectively worked the outside half of the plate with a sharp slider and elevated fastball.
He struck out the first three batters he faced, five of the first eight and 10 of the first 20. He encountered trouble in the fourth inning when the first two batters reached base. He then fanned Troy Claunch, Brett Minnich and Jordan Thompson on 12 pitches.
“He is just able to mix all of his pitches,” Claunch said. “He was able to get ahead early with fastballs, and then next time around was able to mix and kind of threw whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.”
Texas A&M starter Ryan Prager (1-4) allowed four runs, three earned, in 2 1/3 innings. Jacob Palisch went the rest of the way, gave up three hits and a run and struck out eight.
The Aggies beat Texas and Notre Dame to reach the bracket final. But they couldn't score against Sandlin until Dylan Rock homered to left center leading off the sixth.
Sandlin then retired the last six batters he faced and turned the game over to closer Trevin Michael to start the eighth.
The Sooners led 3-0 in the first on Crooks’ fourth of the NCAA Tournament, and ninth of the season, and added single runs in the third and fifth. OU has not trailed in its CWS games.
“They’ve proven over the last six, seven days they’re the best team in our bracket — at least playing the best baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “Very, very consistent starting pitching, defense, timely hits.”
ARKANSAS 3, OLE MISS 2
Zack Morris didn't get much done as the starter for Arkansas two nights earlier, but what a finisher he was Wednesday.
Morris was called on after Mississippi loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the junior left-hander put down the threat to let the Razorbacks hang on for the 3-2 win.
The Hogs (46-20) forced a second bracket final against Ole Miss (39-23) on Thursday, with the winner advancing to play Oklahoma in the best-of-three championship round starting Saturday.
“Morris did a tremendous job,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He talked to me last night after the game and said, ‘I want the ball again.’ And I said, ‘Just be ready.’
“When he came in, I just said, ‘Hey, man, can you do this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I just said, ‘OK, here you go. Go get it.’"
For eight innings, Arkansas all but shut down an offense that had produced 64 runs in its first seven NCAA Tournament games. Kemp Alderman, who hit a tying homer in the second inning, was the only Ole Miss runner to advance past first base to that point.
The Rebels loaded the bases in the ninth after closer Brady Tygart hit two straight batters.
Morris, who had given up two runs and was pulled after two-thirds of an inning in the Hogs’ 13-5 loss to Ole Miss on Monday, struck out pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood and got TJ McCants to fly out before Justin Bench's infield single made it a one-run game. Morris then got Jacob Gonzalez to line out to end the game.
“Zack’s been clutch for us all year long,” Brady Slavens said. “We all had faith in him. We all had belief in him. He didn’t have the best start that he wanted the other day, but he came out and proved himself tonight.”
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said he and his players wouldn't dwell on the loss.
“Rather than woe is us,” he said, "how about looking at what a great opportunity we have tomorrow?”
With the game tied at 1 in the fifth, Slavens blasted John Gaddis’ second pitch 436 feet to straightaway center into a light breeze.
The only other players to homer to dead center since the CWS moved to Charles Schwab Field in 2011 were Florida’s Pete Alonso (2015) and Florida State’s Dylan Busby (2017).
“I was just looking for a fastball over the plate,” Slavens said. “Luckily I got it. It might be the farthest one I’ve ever hit. I’m not sure.”
The Hogs added a huge insurance run in the eighth. Cayden Wallace sent a ball down the left-field line for a double, getting his hand onto the bag just ahead of second baseman Peyton Chatagnier's tag attempt. The call was upheld on video review.
Michael Turner followed with a base hit that brought Wallace home, and the Hogs loaded the bases before Jack Dougherty struck out Slavens and pinch-hitter Kendall Diggs to end the inning.
Arkansas freshman lefty Hagen Smith (7-2) pitched five innings for his longest outing since he went six in an April 30 win over the Rebels. He allowed one run on two hits and four walks, and he struck out eight.
“My mental approach today was just throw the ball over the plate, just throw strikes, because I know I’ve got to throw strikes to give us a chance,” Smith said. “If I walk people, I won't go long or help our team.”
Evan Taylor gave up two hits and fanned four in three innings, leaving after Alderman singled leading off the ninth.
Gaddis (3-2), pitching for the first time since June 6 and making his first start since April 9, allowed two runs on four hits.
The teams traded home runs in the second. Chris Lanzilli went deep for the third time in the CWS and Alderman connected for the Rebels.
Lanzilli's homer barely cleared the fence in left center and bounced back onto the field. The homer was confirmed after a video review.
Lanzilli became the first player to hit three homers in a CWS since Michigan's Jimmy Kerr in 2019.
Bianco and Van Horn announced they would start their aces Thursday, with Ole Miss' Dylan DeLucia (7-2) going against Connor Noland (8-5).
“I can’t promise you the outcome of tomorrow’s game, but I can guarantee you we’re not scared, we’re not going to back down,” said Chatagnier, whose team was the last to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. “This is nothing new to us.”