OMAHA – When the 2022 college baseball season began, membership in the Southeastern Conference hovered over Oklahoma like a boulder dangling from a fraying rope.
OU was coming off a losing season and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2018. Attendance dwindled as the losses mounted. The Sooners’ venerable L. Dale Mitchell Park had fallen behind the Big 12 Conference standard, and wasn’t even close to what SEC teams are used to.
Meanwhile, the SEC produced one national champion after another: LSU in 2009. South Carolina in 2010 and 2011. Vanderbilt in 2014. Florida in 2017. Vanderbilt again in 2019. Mississippi State in 2021.
But any fears of the Sooners not holding up their end when they join the SEC have been allayed in 2022.
OU looks across the diamond at Charles Schwab Field and sees yet another future conference opponent in Mississippi. The Rebels were reputed to be the last at-large team invited into this year’s NCAA Tournament, and yet, here they sit, in the championship finals of the College World Series.
And Oklahoma belongs.
“I think Texas and Oklahoma are going to fit just right in with the SEC,” OU center fielder Tanner Tredaway said Friday during an off-day press conference. “I don't think we're going to make it bigger than it is. We're just going to go into it balls to the wall and just get after it.”
The Sooners are 5-3 this season against SEC competition, beating Auburn and losing to LSU and Tennessee in the regular season and then taking two out of three from Florida at the Gainesville Regional and beating Texas A&M twice in Omaha. Those are the best of the best in the SEC.
Last season, OU took two out of three from Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri, then beat No. 1-ranked Arkansas in a midweek game in Fayetteville.
In the shortened 2020 campaign, Oklahoma split games with Arkansas and Missouri before no-hitting LSU to close out the Shriners Classic in Houston.
That ended up being the highlight of the season, however, as the Sooners stumbled down the stretch and finished short of postseason play.
OU’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2018, the Sooners opened by beating Mississippi State at the Tallahassee Regional, but then were eliminated by losing twice to the Bulldogs.
Regardless of the outcome of this year’s championship series, OU – and Texas – have a tall mountain to climb as future members of the SEC.
“Well, I think almost all the SEC teams are powerhouses,” Tredaway said. “They're really good at recruiting. They've got all the facilities and all that stuff. They bring a lot to the table. They're hard competition, a lot of talent, a lot of strength.
“But at the same time, that's not what baseball is all about. Baseball is about being a team and creating a good culture for your team. In college baseball, it's about winning.”
Skip Johnson compared SEC baseball in general to Oklahoma football, meaning one of the best in the nation. Week in and week out, the schedule will be brutally challenging.
“It's incredible,” Johnson said. “Looking forward to the opportunity.”
Johnson clarified he doesn’t want to put the SEC cart before the Big 12 horse, though.
“I love the Big 12. I've been in the Big 12 for a long time. It's great,” he said. “We're here today representing the Big 12. … Our conference was a really good conference this year, and it has been for the last 15 years that I've been in it.”
“Going to the SEC is a new step moving forward. And college baseball is changing, and we've got to continue to grow. …
“We decided to go to the SEC, that's great. We're looking forward to the opportunity, looking forward to playing against all those great teams.”