The middle game of the Bedlam Series felt like a must-win game for Oklahoma. It entered the weekend believing any hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament hinged on winning the season’s final three series.

It played like it on Saturday.

The Sooners pummeled Oklahoma State starting pitcher Kyle Ottoson for four runs in the first two innings, while OU’s Jonathan Gray threw seven dominant innings in the Sooners’ 8-4 victory at Bricktown Ballpark.

The win set up the rubber match at 3 p.m., today. If it allows the path set by the first two games, pitching will be the difference.

Gray (5-4) was clearly the difference-maker for the Sooners (30-18, 10-9 Big 12). The hard-throwing right hander held the Cowboys (27-18, 12-8) to four hits over seven innings and took a shutout into the eighth inning.

“Jonathan Gray was outstanding,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said.

Gray’s performance, which included seven strikeouts, was reminiscent of the one the Cowboys received from their ace — Andrew Heaney — in the series opener Friday night. The difference between the opener and Game 2 was OU pummeled OSU starting pitcher Kyle Ottoson from the onset.

The Sooners tagged him for four runs after just eight batters went to the plate on Saturday.

The dam broke early for OU. It was already on the board with a run in the first inning when Cody Reine came to the plate with Jack Mayfield and Hunter Lockwood on.

Another hit provided the chance to break the game open.The Sooners had opportunities to do that over the last couple games. That critical, game-changing hit, however, has been absent.

Reine changed that with a two-run triple into the right-field gap.

“I think that took a lot of pressure off our shoulders,” Reine said.

Reine wasn’t the only one swinging a hot bat. Matt Oberste, who was making just his 17th start of the season, went 4-for-4 with two RBIs, including a colossal solo home run in the second inning that completely left the ballpark. It was the final pitch Ottoson (4-6) threw. Hunter Lockwood went 2-for-4 and drove in a run.

The offensive prowess was a 180-degree switch from the first two meetings between the Sooners and Cowboys this season. Including OSU’s 6-1 victory over OU in the non-conference meeting April 24,  the Sooners had gone 17 straight innings without scoring. Ottoson dominated the Sooners in the non-conference meeting. The Sooners tagged him for four runs after just eight batters had walked to the plate Saturday.

Golloway had admonished his team after both games for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. They finally got the message Saturday night.

“Tonight we talked about staying back and waiting on pitches in the (strike) zone,” Reine said. “I thought we did a good job with that tonight, especially in the first two innings.”

Gray (5-4) has shown he has a ton of ability all season. The Sooners’ best win this season was a 3-2 victory over Oregon, which is leading the Pac-12 Conference standings, back in March. Command has been the biggest issue.

Having a three-run lead before he ever took the mound removed a lot of pressure.

“It really helps when the offense bangs the ball around the yard. I fed off that,” Gray said.

The Sooners’ victory heaped even more pressure on today’s finale. The winner will still believe it has a legitimate shot for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The loser might feel that way, but the odds of it happening will take a serious hit.

OU believed that was the case Saturday night and played like it.