The Big 12 Baseball Championship has moved through three rounds in three days and into what can now be called the Final Three. Oklahoma eliminated conference regular-season champion and tournament top-seed Baylor by a 7-2 score in the first of two games scheduled for Saturday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. That leaves three teams still standing, with OU being the highest seeded team at No. 4.
The other two schools are Missouri and Kansas, which has to be considered a huge surprise, given that the two longtime archrivals entered the Championship as the sixth and seventh seeds, respectively.
The Tigers and the Jayhawks will play the second game on Saturday for the rite to advance to the tournament championship game on Sunday. Missouri is 2-0 in the Big 12 Championship with victories over Texas and Texas A&M. Kansas lost its opening-round game to Texas A&M, but came back to win successive elimination games over Texas and Texas A&M to advance to the semifinal round and yet one more Border showdown with Mizzou.
Kansas and Missouri played a three-game series in Lawrence last weekend in what, at the time, was believed to be the final athletic contest between the two rival schools. The Jayhawks won two of three, enabling them to secure a spot in the conference championship.
If Missouri defeats the Jayhawks on Saturday afternoon, Kansas will be eliminated and the Tigers will play OU in the championship final on Sunday. If the Jayhawks knock off undefeated Mizzou in the afternoon game, the two teams will play a second game Saturday evening, with the winner advancing.
The Jayhawks rode the complete-game, 150-pitch performance of Thomas Taylor in defeating Texas A&M in the late game on Friday. The KU right-hander held the potent A&M offense to just seven hits and three runs, two of which came in the first frame, in posting a 5-3 victory. The win reversed a 7-4 loss by Kansas to the third-seeded Aggies in the opening round. Taylor outdueled A&M's Ross Stripling, a 10-game winner and one of the league's best starting pitchers, who also threw a complete game in suffering only his third loss of the year.
"I've been coaching 34 years and never had a kid throw 150 pitches," said Kansas head coach Ritch Price. "He's trying to play professional baseball. He's got a huge stage out there, and the game is on the line. If we were going to lose it, he was going to be the guy to throw the last pitch."
Oklahoma's victory on Saturday over Baylor, their second win over the Bears in the Championship, came behind the power hitting of designated-hitter Max Oberste. Oberste clubbed a two-run homer in the Sooners three-run second inning and a solo shot in the fourth that staked OU starter Jonathan Gray to a 4-0 lead. Gray went 7.2 innings, his longest outing of the season, giving up six hits to the conference champions and striking out six.
The Sooners are advancing to the Big 12 Championship title game for the first time since 1997, when they defeated Texas Tech 19-17 for the championship, their only tournament championship in the Big 12 era. OU was the No. 4 seed that season as well.
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