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Sandlin’s Season-Best Performance Leads Oklahoma to CWS Finals

OMAHA—Oklahoma’s mantra all season has been that it wants to be a team full of Davids, as in the biblical hero who slayed Goliath.

On Wednesday, with the Sooners seeking their first trip to the College World Series championship since they won the national title in 1994, the hero was literally a man named David.

Righthander David Sandlin threw seven innings, giving up five hits and one run with one walk and a season-high 12 strikeouts in a 5-1 win against Texas A&M, which sends the Sooners to the finals.

“His fastball command and his slider and just trying to keep those guys off balance as much as you can,” Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said of what worked for Sandlin. “Getting strike one was really huge for him. Then trying to locate a pitch after that. I thought his changeup was good late. At times he threw some curveballs off the sliders that were really good as well.”

The Aggies have spent their entire time in this College World Series wearing out opposing pitching. It’s not just that they put up runs in bunches—although they also did average just under eight runs per game in their first three games—it’s that they’re relentless.

They almost never swing at a first pitch, they foul off pitches left and right and they never seem to give away an at-bat. Throwing first-pitch strikes is always going to be a good strategy, but perhaps never more so than against this Texas A&M team.

“It's important against anybody you play to get first-pitch strikes,” Sandlin said. “That's the goal every time as a pitcher, so just going out there and throwing. That was the goal the whole time.”

If ever there was an ERA in this CWS that didn’t match the overall quality of the pitcher, it was Sandlin going into Wednesday’s game with a 5.93 mark.

The stuff is clearly better than that. His fastball averages over 92 mph and often sits closer to 94 mph, as it was early against the Aggies, when he used it to get ahead in counts. He also has a real weapon in a mid-80s slider that spins above 2,700 rpm, which was his putaway pitch time and again.

He’s also shown plenty of flashes in his first season in Norman after transferring in from the junior college ranks. He gave up two hits and one run in eight innings against Texas-San Antonio in his second start of the season. He threw six shutout frames against Texas in early April. At the Big 12 Tournament, he struck out 10 and gave up one run in seven innings against Kansas State.

Consistency has been the issue at times, but a performance like the one he put together Wednesday was always in the realm of possibility.

In addition to good stuff and a plan well executed, Wednesday’s effort also came as a result of a good bit of player management on the part of the Oklahoma coaching staff earlier in the CWS.

In a win against this same Texas A&M team to open the event, the Sooners brought Sandlin into the game while holding a 12-4 lead. It didn’t go well, as he gave up four runs in one-third of an inning, but there was more method to the madness than just trying to get outs in that spot.

“I wanted to get David out there for an inning, just to get him out there,” Johnson said after that game. “No better time to get him out there—he's probably going to start the third game—to get him comfortable. Whatever happened, it didn't matter.”

Whereas that also could have buoyed A&M’s hopes, given that it had a lot of success against Sandlin the first time around, it instead played into Sandlin’s hand.

“Absolutely. (It) Just got me ready for the atmosphere I was going to be in and mentally prepared almost more for this game and trust everything I had,” Sandlin said of the earlier relief appearance being helpful.

All of the offense Oklahoma would need came in the first inning thanks to a three-run home run off the bat of Sandlin’s battery mate Jimmy Crooks. Texas A&M starter Ryan Prager left a breaking ball floating out over the plate and Crooks yanked it just over the wall in right field.

A run in the third on a Texas A&M error and another in the fifth on an RBI single by center fielder Tanner Tredaway gave the Sooners some added cushion, though it wasn’t necessary.

“Our approach is just to be aggressive and just do our thing,” Crooks said. “Getting baserunners on and our baserunning to be aggressive is important, and then just hitting it in the gaps is what we try to do is and just stick with our approach and see what happens.”

Oklahoma was last at this stage in 1994, when it ended the season by dogpiling between the third base line and the pitcher's mound at Rosenblatt Stadium, celebrating a national title victory over Georgia Tech.

Tuesday afternoon, while enjoying the day off in Omaha, the Sooners visited what remains of Rosenblatt to reconnect with that bit of their past.

“As Coach Johnson said to us, it's a part of us,” Sandlin said. “The history and everybody that's played at the University of Oklahoma before us is just as important as the team we have now. They laid the groundwork for us, and we just need to keep going.”

With two more wins, against a future conference foe in either Mississippi or Arkansas, this group of Davids will have created a piece of history all on its own.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

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