OMAHA – The College World Series finals have finally arrived.
After ripping through their first three games in Omaha unscathed, Oklahoma (45-22) now meets Ole Miss (40-23) in a best-of-three series for the national title beginning on Saturday night at Charles Schwab Field.
The Sooners’ historic run in the second half of the year will not be forgotten by OU fans any time soon, with both a renaissance of fan interest and program support going hand-in-hand with the immense level of success the team has had on the field for over two months.
But, while Oklahoma players theoretically could start to become nostalgic of a special group playing their final games together, the focus remains lasered in on the task at hand: winning the whole thing.
“I don't think there's any sadness,” center fielder Tanner Tredaway said at a press conference on Friday. “This is what we've worked for the entire year. Everything has been leading up to this moment. I think we're just extremely excited to be in the position that we are. We have this opportunity with this group of guys. How else would you want to finish it off?”
This group of Sooners will be intertwined forever in OU lore, regardless of what happens over the next few days.
CWS Championship Series: How to Watch
Charles Schwab Field, Omaha
- Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss
- Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Sunday, 2 p.m.
- Saturday, 6 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
With that in mind, the Oklahoma players are making sure to soak it all in as their magical journey concludes - while also staying determined on hosting the trophy when all is said and done.
“Finishing this year with this type of group, we're going to be sharing memories for a lifetime,” catcher Jimmy Crooks said. “There's definitely no sadness. We're one big family and we're going to be sticking through thick and thin with these guys. Yeah, we're just going to enjoy every moment and just keep going.”
Awaiting the Sooners is a Rebels team that has arguably taken an even more unlikely path to this point than that of OU, reaching the finals after being the last at-large team to make the field.
Ole Miss has played with an edge that Oklahoma can certainly relate to when they collide on the diamond on Saturday night.
“They have a chip on their shoulder, and so do we,” Crooks said. “Yeah, they had a real tough journey. They were the last four in, and they've been battling their way all the way here. Same with us.”
A mutual respect certainly lies between the two teams as they prepare to face off for the title, with both having an appreciation for the difficulty to get to the final series.
While head coaches Skip Johnson and Mike Bianco don’t have much of a prior relationship, they know what each other are all about having watched one another’s teams from afar.
Now, they meet with a championship on the line.
“Coach Bianco has been around for a long time,” Johnson said. “He understands that environment. He's a really, really good coach and runs a great program.”
“He does a great job, and it's fun to be on the other side watching, and it's going to be fun coaching against him.”
“I don't know Skip well,” Bianco said. “We're in two different leagues…but he did a great job obviously at Texas, and what he's done at Oklahoma obviously speaks for itself. So a lot of respect. The people that I do know that know him speak so highly of him, what a class act he is and does it the right way. He's done a terrific job.”
Getting the ball for Oklahoma will be their No. 1 starter all season long in big left-hander Jake Bennett, with right-hander Cade Horton getting the start in Sunday afternoon’s Game 2.
The formula for the Sooners is really quite simple: keep doing what they’ve been doing.
OU has managed to be one of the hottest teams in the country through the last month of the regular season and the entire postseason to this point, so the mindset isn’t about to change now with just two more wins needed to finish the job.
“They're going to play the game one pitch at a time and try to play against the baseball,” Johnson said. “That's what we talk about. That's what we do. They're going to pick each other up. It's going to be fun.”
The Sooners and Rebels will meet in Game 1 of the CWS Finals at 6 p.m. Saturday night at Charles Schwab Field broadcast on ESPN.