NORMAN, Okla. – One day after leaving the ballpark thinking they might have let opportunities to win slip away, the ACU Wildcats left the state on Thursday knowing they had let opportunities to beat Oklahoma slip through their fingers.
Oklahoma scored all of its runs in the fourth inning Thursday afternoon and then watched the Wildcats waste chance after chance to put runs on the board as the Sooners finished off a two-game sweep of the Wildcats with a 3-1 win at Mitchell Park.
ACU is now 6-4 on the season and headed to the UT-Arlington / Hilton Invitational where the Wildcats will play Missouri State at 11 a.m. Friday, followed by an 11 a.m. game Saturday against Utah and a 3 p.m. game Sunday against UT-Arlington. Oklahoma is now 9-4 with a home series against Rutgers getting started Friday.
Just like on Wednesday when the Wildcats went 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position, the Wildcats on Thursday were 1 for 13 in such situations.
ACU threatened early, leaving runners on third in the first inning, on second in the third inning and at first and second in the fourth inning. The fourth inning hurt the Wildcats the most of those three early inning foibles as Kyle Giusti and Russell Crippen drew back-to-back one-out walks to give ACU the chance to break on top early.
But Brandon Grudzielanek struck out swinging and Taylor Waters went down looking to keep the game scoreless.
The Sooners made the Wildcats pay for not getting runs on the board in their half of the fourth when Hunter Haley reached on a one-out walk and scored on a double by Mac James to make it 1-0. James then scored to make it 2-0 when Taylor Alspaugh dropped a single into right field. After Alspaugh stole second base, he scored on a two-out double by Keach Ballard to make it 3-0, and that's all the runs the Sooners' pitching staff would need.
After facing five pitchers on Wednesday, ACU saw four more on Thursday, and those four OU pitchers combined to scatter eight hits, walk four, strike out 12 Wildcat hitters and induce two inning-ending double-play ground balls.
ACU had another good chance to score in the fifth when Gunnar Buhner led off with a single to left. But Jordan Forrester failed to get a bunt down and struck out for the first out, just before Seth Spivey reached on an error by Hector Lorenzana. Aaron Draper then followed with a single to left field to load the bases for Tyler Eager and Giusti, ACU's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters.
But facing Jacob Evans, both went down looking at called third strikes, and those two runs proved to be costly to ACU's effort.
In the seventh, Buhner again led off with a single before Forrester – again trying to bunt – popped out to the catcher. On a hit-and-run play, Buhner went to third on a Spivey single to center to give ACU runners at the corners with one out. Freshman shortstop Aaron Draper then tried to lay down a safety squeeze, but he didn't get it far enough down the line or out toward second base, which allowed the pitcher (Evans) to field the ball.
With Buhner bothered by a sore hip, he was out by five feet at the plate when Evans flipped the ball to James behind the plate. The Wildcats still had runners at first and second with two outs, but Eager struck out swinging to end the inning.
The Wildcats finally broke through in the eighth when Giusti and Russell Crippen led off with back-to-back walks before Grudzielanek drove a ball deep to right field that was caught, but allowed Giusti to move to third base. Taylor Waters then singled up the middle to drive in Giusti to make it 3-1, bringing Buhner to the plate. He hit a hot shot to the first baseman, Anthony Hermelyn, who couldn't handle it and all hands were safe as the Wildcats had the bases loaded with one out and down just 3-1. But on the second pitch Forrester saw from closer Ralph Garza, he grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to kill ACU's last chance of scoring.
"All those things we didn't execute really hurt us (Thursday)," ACU assistant coach Brandon Stover said. "To win that game – and it was a winnable game – you have to execute everything perfectly, and we just didn't do that. Right now our margin is very thin, and for us to be able to beat a high major Division I team, we have to do all of the little things it takes to win, and for the second straight day we just didn't do that."
The Wildcat offense couldn't take advantage of another solid day on the mound for the ACU pitching staff. Nate Cole(1-2) started and went four innings, scattering five hits and giving up the three runs while striking out three Sooners. Brady Rodriguez (two scoreless innings) and Kevin Sheets (two scoreless innings) were sensational out of the bullpen as they each allowed just one hit and nothing else. The Sooners, in fact, had just two baserunners in the final four innings as the Wildcat pitchers combined to retire 12 of the last 14 men they faced.