OMAHA, Neb. – Just beyond the right field wall of the Schwab along the rows of merchandise tents in front of the Home Run Village you’ll find a row of flags representing each of the teams here.
As the week progresses and a team is eliminated the flags are lowered to half-mast. Gone but not forgotten.
This time of the year fans, players and coaches alike pack their bags and head to college baseball’s holy land on a pilgrimage not knowing when that call to return home will come. It’s baseball. It’s unpredictable.
Controlling the controllable. Finding comfort in the uncomfortable. Playing the game pitch to pitch. Mantras this Sooners team has taken to heart over the course of this journey.
“I said it in the first press conference, I can remember Coach Garrido talking about the team that gets the most comfortable when they get here they play good,” said Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson.
“That’s the biggest thing. How can you control yourself one pitch at a time when you’re in an environment like that? We talk about it a lot. The more you’re in your routine the more belief system that you have. It It gives you confidence. Nine times out of 10 the environment is not really the physical things that happen within the environment. It’s the mental things that hurt the physical things.”
Yogi always said the game is 90-percent mental.
“If you have a million thoughts going in your head and you’re listening to the popcorn vendor or the hot dog vendor up there then you lose sight of what you really have to accomplish which is really throwing the ball to the target or watching the top end side of the ball,” Johnson continued. That’s the only thing you can control.”
Controlling the chaos
Oklahoma committed a baseball sin in the fourth inning of Sunday’s winners bracket game. Not once but twice(!). Making the first and third out of the frame at third base. The internet went mad. third base coach Clay Van Hook quickly reached OU offensive coordinator noteriety amongst the fanbase.
Sebastian Orudno was gunned down at third trying to extend a leadoff double into a triple. John Spikerman met the same fate trying to go from first to third on a Peyton Graham single to right field.
Yet somehow it didn’t cost them.
“Yeah, that’s the momentum of the game we talk about a lot. I thought it, man, we just lost the momentum, put the momentum back on the other side,” said Johnson. “But you can take the momentum back with a guy like Cade Horton and what he did. I mean, that guy’s got electric stuff at times. He’s gotten better every outing. Really proud of him. He continues to work, our strength staff and training staff to get him on the field, after the arm injury 15 months later. And it just shows you what he’s about. The guy works and he wants to be great at what he does. And he’ll continue to grow.”
However, Johnson and his squad know Horton won’t always be there to save the day.
Oklahoma has built it’s identity on being aggressive on the base paths and that’s not going to change. Nor should it. But testing the baseball God’s again isn’t likely a recipe for success at this stage of the tournament.
Robertson’s miraculous grab
It might be the highlight of the tournament.
Sooners first baseman Blake Robertson talked about his first inning grab against Notre Dame. Ranging to the visitor dugout Robertson caught the foul ball before flipping head over feet into the Irish dugout.
“Honestly didn’t even know it was the first pitch until the third inning. It took me a minute until I was like damn that was the first pitch,” recalled Robertson. “I just saw it go up and the wind was kind of pushing it but I thought I could get to it and be camped (under it). I got around the area and called him off and I didn’t want to hold up on ESPN and do one of these so I just kept going for it and ended up falling over the wall.”
Deep breathes at home for the OU faithful as Robertson got to his feet and leaped back over the dugout railing.
“I feel it now. Nothing crazy,” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh I can’t believe I caught it’. I should have went up the stairs. I don’t know what I was thinking. But, yeah, it was pretty cool.”