OU baseball: Oklahoma drops three consecutive Big 12 series ahead of non-conference break

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma pitcher Levi Prater throws during the Sooners' game against Kansas on March 24 at L. Dale Mitchell Park. OU has dropped three straight Big 12 series since sweeping the Jayhawks.

Skip Johnson tends to draw at least one positive aspect from an Oklahoma loss. Two weeks ago, it was starter Levi Prater’s ability to settle down after two shaky innings.

Sunday, the coach praised his pitchers’ ability to give OU a chance to win at 24th-ranked Baylor, which vaulted atop the Big 12 standings after beating Oklahoma 3-2 in 12 innings to claim the series.

The Sooners might start losing their taste for silver linings.

OU has lost three consecutive Big 12 series since a 3-0 league start jolted it into the top-25 national rankings. This weekend’s trip to Minnesota is a break from conference play, but the challenge resumes when Texas Tech visits Norman for a series beginning May 3.

OU (25-12, 6-6 Big 12) is fifth in the Big 12, having lost series to three of the league’s top five teams. The Sooners’ last four conference losses have come by an average of 2.25 runs.

The line between wins and losses has been thin. OU’s struggles — it is 3-7 over the last 10 games — are rooted in lack of timely hits. The Sooners are a combined 2 of 14 with runners in scoring position in two most recent losses.

“From the fifth inning on we started getting guys on base,” Johnson said after Saturday’s loss to Baylor. “We just have to be able to situational hit there and move the runners so we can try to get a couple of runs at a time. The inning where we scored three runs we had some really good at-bats.”

Leaders

Tyler Hardman is hitting .333 at the plate with a team-high 31 RBIs. The sophomore first baseman also has a team-high slugging percentage (.510).

Looking only at last week’s numbers, junior shortstop Brandon Zaragoza continued his climb from a hitting slump, batting a team-best .375 with four runs scored. He has reached base in 10 consecutive games and is on a four-game hitting streak.

Prater (5-3) doesn’t have the record to show for it, but the sophomore pitcher has the team’s lowest earned-run average (2.13) while throwing a team-high innings pitched (50 2/3). His strikeouts (63) are also the most thrown by a Sooner this spring.

In the polls

OU is unranked among major top-25 polls. The Sooners are No. 39 in the both the NCAA and Warren Nolan’s RPI.

Question moving forward

The situational hitting issue has hovered over the Sooners except briefly during a walk-off win over TCU two weeks ago.

OU doesn’t have the sluggers it did a year ago and can’t be expected bash the ball around the park. The Sooners must somehow manufacture runs in order to take advantage of a strong pitching staff.

Up next

OU travels to Oral Roberts for a 6 p.m. start Tuesday.

The Golden Eagles have lost 5 of 7 since winning 4-2 (11 innings) at OU earlier this month. Watch for ORU’s Spencher Henson (.347, 30 RBIs) and Hunter Wilson (.328, 27 runs scored) in the lineup.

OU weekly schedule

Tuesday

• Game: OU (25-12, 6-6 Big 12) at Oral Roberts (16-17, 8-7 Summit)

• Time: 6 p.m.

• Place: J.L. Johnson Stadium | Tulsa, OK

• Pitchers: OU RHP Ben Abram (6-0, 2.35 ERA) vs. ORU RHP Isaac Coffey (1-2, 5.61 ERA)

• Radio: KREF 1400 am | 99.3 FM

• Stream: ESPN+

Next

• Friday: at Minnesota (6:30 p.m.)

• Saturday: at Minnesota (2 p.m.)

• Sunday: at Minnesota (11 a.m.)