Junior pitcher Burch Smith and the bullpen held Nebraska (25-16, 5-9 Big 12) to three hits, which was a team single-game low, and allowed three base runners to reach scoring position.
Smith, who improved to 7-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.46, had a no-hitter going for 5 1/3 innings before an infield single to short broke it up. The single was initially ruled an error but was changed during the next at-bat.
“I try not to pay attention to that stuff, but at one point I checked the score – I didn’t even know – I checked in the fourth,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I haven’t given up a hit.’ But I try to do the same thing and just take it one pitch at a time.”
Not only did the Cornhuskers break the no-hit bid in the sixth, but they also removed any chance of a shutout by scoring their only run on a two-out double later in the inning to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Nebraska didn’t get another hit off Smith after that double and wouldn’t get its third hit until there were two outs in the ninth.
“Really a little bit of everything [was working],” said Smith, who struck out nine and walked six. “Apparently I couldn’t throw to left-handed hitters. I had like six walks to lefties, but I just tried spotting up my fastball and have my slider be my out pitch today.”
The junior transfer from Howard College started the eighth but had to turn the ball over to freshman lefty Dillon Overton after allowing a walk and recording an out in the inning.
Overton picked off the attempted base stealer and got a fly out to center to end Nebraska’s late-inning threat and to give the offense a chance to tack on some insurance runs.
The Sooners (29-11, 9-7 Big 12) plated two runs in the bottom of the eighth – one on a groundout by junior second baseman Caleb Bushyhead and another on a single by junior third baseman Garrett Buechele – to give senior closer Ryan Duke some breathing room.
Duke recorded his fifth save of the year with ease but paid a price for it.
He was nailed on the ankle with a sharply hit grounder back and he admits it hurt pretty badly although he was able to make the play and get the out.
“I felt it,” Duke said. “I try not to show any emotion, and then after I threw that first warm-up pitch I could feel it pretty good. But you just got to stay strong and finish the play.”
Smith’s dominance on the mound was only matched by OU’s ability to take any pitch thrown anywhere in the zone and drive it for base hits.
The Sooners put up a 14-spot in the hits column without getting an extra-base hit, and the majority of their hits were to the opposite field on outside pitches.
“Just letting the ball get deep,” senior left fielder Casey Johnson said. “[Assistant coach] Tim Tadlock does a good job coaching us up. Just letting the ball get deep and going the other way.”
Johnson went 3-for-4 and drove in the game-winning RBI in the third.
Buechele and senior second baseman Cale Ellis also had three hits, and junior center fielder Erik Ross and junior first baseman Cameron Seitzer rounded off the list of players who had multi-hit days.
OU will be going for the series sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday at L. Dale Mitchell Park. The possible sweep would be the team’s second during conference play.
Going for the sweep isn’t something that’s important only because the Sooners need that spark series that could propel them into a hot streak during the season’s final stretch but because they need to start making a charge up the Big 12 standings.
“If we’re going to make a push it’s got to be now,” head coach Sunny Golloway said. “It’s got to be a turning point for us. Now with the series secure, we need to come out and secure victory because in the standings it’s going to be huge as we go into our last three weekends of Big 12.”
Senior pitcher Bobby Shore, who has made his previous few outings coming out of the bullpen, will be getting the start. He is 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA.