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Big 12 Tournament: Oklahoma Tops Texas 8-6 To Earn Berth In Final

 Matt Tallarini  |    May 24th, 2024 11:31pm EDT

The Oklahoma Sooners mob Jackson Nicklaus after his homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat Texas. (Photo Courtesy of the Big 12 Conference)

ARLINGTON, Texas – Top-seeded Oklahoma beat the No. 7 seed Kansas Jayhawks 8-6 on a two-run game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth from junior second baseman Jackson Nicklaus to advance to the Big 12 Tournament championship game. 

“They have been really good at picking each other up and being good teammates. At the end of the day, you can win championships. But it’s really when you’re part of something and you’re selfless, and you don’t care who gets credit, that’s truly what life’s about. That’s a learning lesson and that’s what baseball teaches you,” Sooners head coach Skip Johnson said. 

Oklahoma will play in the 2024 Big 12 Conference championship game on Saturday, May 25 on ESPNU at 7 p.m. EST against Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks are eliminated from the tournament. 

Kansas’s offense got on the board iquickly, plating four runs in the top of the first inning. Jake English hit a two-run double down the right field line, scoring John Nett and Ben Hartl to make it 2-0. 

“Hitting wise, just sticking to my approach and working with Coach Fitzgerald and Coach Hancock over not only the summer but also the fall and the whole offseason. Sticking to that approach of getting a good pitch to hit and I feel like I did that a majority of the season,” English said. 

The next batter, designated hitter Lenny Ashby, lifted a sacrifice fly to Sooners center fielder John Spikerman, sending Kodey Shojinaga coming in to score to extend the lead to 3-0. Collier Cranford ripped a single into left field to score English pfor the fourth run of the inning. 

Oklahoma starter Brendan Girton came out of the game in the top of the second inning after giving up a leadoff single to Jayhawks left fielder Mike Koszewski and walking Nett, and Sooners head coach Skip Johnson brought on relief pitcher Grant Stevens to replace Girton, who threw one inning and allowed five hits, six earned runs, two walks, two strikeouts. 

Shojinaga helped tally the fifth run for the Jayhawks on Friday in the top of the second inning with a fielder’s choice to Oklahoma shortstop Jaxon Willits. Willits threw over to Sooners senior third baseman Anthony Mackenzie for the force play with covering the bag to get Nett out at third for the second out of the inning and resulted in left fielder Mike Koszewski coming in to score to make it 5-0. 

A few moments later, Ashby tallied Kansas’s sixth run of the day with slashing a RBI single through the left side of the infield scoring Hartl and extending the lead to 6-0. 

Oklahoma countered in the bottom of the fifth inning when Jaxson Willits launched a two-run home run into the right field seats, scoring catcher Scott Mudler to make it 6-2. 

A few batters later, Kansas head coach Dan Fitzgerald lifted startier J’Briell Easley after 4.2 innings. He allowed six hits, three earned runs, one walk, and struck out 11 batters. 

“I think back to when coach Fitzgerald told me to trust the process. We’ve had our ups and downs all year. I was hurt, but I came back this year. Coach Fitzgerald believed in me. Coach Brandon Scott believed in me and gave me the ball for that game,” Easley said. 

Dougan walked the first two batters that he faced until Nicklaus came up and drove a two-run RBI single into center field, scoring Michael Snyder and Anthony Mackenzie to cut the deficit to 6-4. 

Fitzgerald went to his bullpen again and called on Gavin Brasosky to replace Dougan and face Kendall Pettis. He immediately gave up an RBI single that scored Mckenzie to make it 6-5. Nicklaus was thrown out at third base for the final out of the bottom of the fifth inning from Nett as he rifled to Shojinaga to apply the tag.

In the bottom of the sixth, Willits ripped a double into the right-center field gap, scoring right fielder Jason Walk to tie the game up at six. 

Oklahoma’s bats were silenced the rest of the way by the Jayhawks pitching staff until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Nicklaus came up to the plate and launched a 2-2 fastball for a game winning two-run home run over the right field wall, scoring Mckenzie and the Sooners running out to dogpile him at home plate. 

“The mindset throughout the years, we have a complete clause that we sign. It’s an acronym for the stuff that the program stands for and my mindset has just been, after last year, I just want to do something to help this team win,” Nicklaus said during the post game press conference. 

Kansas’s offense left 14 men on base during their loss in their second game on Friday, and  finished the season 31-23 with a conference record of 15-16. Kansas is No. 71 in the RPI and is on the bubble the NCAA Tournament. 

“When I look at all the metrics, all the numbers, and all the everything, there’s one metric that we don’t line up with in the postseason and that’s RPI. If you look at everything else, 17 wins in the conference, then you look at who we beat in this tournament and look at conference finish. There’s no question in my mind that we’re a regional team and certainly one of the top 64 teams,” Fitzgerald said during the postgame press conference on Friday’s second game loss. 

Kansas will have to wait until Monday to see if they make the NCAA Tournament’s 64-team field.

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Matt Tallarini
Matthew (Matt) Tallarini is the Founder and Chief Correspondent for the World Baseball Network. Matt played semi-professional baseball with the Pelham Mets in Pelham, New York for four years, including the 2018 Semi Pro World Series. During the pandemic, Matt began engaging with international baseball, as a way to keep connected to the sport. Matt created the World Baseball Network and its signature website, WorldBaseball.com as a way to promote and inform similar likeminded fans about the players, teams and leagues innovating the sport of baseball and feeding into Major League Baseball (MLB). As a result of Matt’s efforts, World Baseball Network is now the benchmark standard for international baseball coverage, including MLB, MiLB, NCAA, Korea, Japan, Caribbean, Baseball United, WBC, WBSC and more. In a short time, Matt has interviewed a who’s who of global baseball legends and coaches. These include: Former Yankee closer Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera; Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman; former Yankee Luis Sojo veteran of four Yankee World series teams; Mickey Callaway former MLB manager; Paul Mainieri LSU National Championship coach; Eric Holtz manager Team Israel of the 2020 Olympics; Ian Kinsler former MLB player and now Israel national team player; Harold Ramirez of the Tampa Bay Rays formerly with the Indians and Cubs; Joey Meneses of the Washington Nationals; and Mike Cameron current USA Baseball advisor former-MLB outfielder. Matt Tallarini is 2015 graduate of Mitchell College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and a 2022 graduate of Iona University with a Masters in Finance. Since its inception, Matt has been the Chief Correspondent for World Baseball Network. Matt has interviewed and interacted with many international players and coaches including former Yankee closer Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, former Yankee Luis Sojo veteran of four Yankee World series teams, Mickey Callaway former MLB manager, Paul Mainieri LSU National Championship coach, Eric Holtz manager Team Israel of the 2020 Olympics, Ian Kinsler former MLB player and now Israel national team player, Harold Ramirez of the Tampa Bay Rays formerly with the Indians and Cubs, Joey Meneses of the Washington Nationals, Mike Cameron current USA Baseball advisor former-MLB outfielder. Matthew is 2015 graduate of Mitchell College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and a 2022 graduate of Iona University with a Masters in Finance.