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OU Baseball: Sooners Host Dirtbags To Open 2017 Season

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A late change to the schedule brings opening weekend to L. Dale Mitchell Park for the University of Oklahoma baseball team. Originally scheduled to be on the road, the Sooners host No. 17 Long Beach State in Norman due to inclement weather in California. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. on Friday with the following two days to begin at 2 p.m. and 11 a.m.

Friday 4 p.m.: RHP-Jake Irvin, So. (6-2, 4.47) vs. RHP-Darren McCaughan, Jr. (10-1, 2.03)
Saturday 2 p.m.: RHP-Dylan Grove, So. (3-1, 3.77) vs. TBA
Sunday 11 a.m.: RHP-Kyle Tyler, So. (1-0, 2.12) vs. TBA

Oklahoma is coming off a 30-27-1 campaign with an 11-13 record and fifth-place finish in the Big 12 a season ago. Seven position players that started 30 or more games last season return, including sophomore outfielder Steele Walker. He is one of three Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans from 2016 and hit .290 with 17 doubles; tied for the second most on record by an OU freshman. Senior first baseman Austin O’Brien, who was an All-Big 12 Freshman Team performer in 2014, is the only four-year player under fourth-year head coach Pete Hughes. O’Brien enters his final season in Norman with 104 career hits and 10 home runs. In 2016, he hit .267 with a .424 slugging percentage on nine doubles and five home runs. Senior Jack Flansburg started multiple games at all four infield positions last season, including each of the first 47 games of the year before being sidelined with a hamstring injury. He earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention as a .278 hitter with 32 runs scores and 29 driven in. Sophomore right-hander Jake Irvin finished his rookie campaign as the Friday night starter. He resumes that roll after posting a 6-2 record with a 4.47 earned run average in 2016.

Long Beach State is coming off a 38-22 2016 campaign, which ended in a one-run loss to Miami (Fla.) in the Coral Gables Regional Final. The Dirtbags are ranked No. 17 in the USA Today and No. 20 in the Baseball America preseason polls.  Receiving 65 votes, in the Big West Conference 2017 preseason baseball coach’s poll, Long Beach is projected to finish second in the conference. First baseman Daniel Jackson was an All-Big West Second selection hitting a team-high .321 in 2016 with .491 slugging percentage and six home runs.  Right-handed pitcher Darren McCaughan comes into the season as the reigning Big West Pitcher of the year.  In 2016, McCaughan made 16 starts and finished the year with a 10-1 record, 2.03 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 84 strikeouts in 111 innings pitched. He also became the 12th player in Long Beach State history to compete for the Team USA Collegiate National Team.

The 2016 series between OU and LBSU began with the Sooners getting swept in a doubleheader.  A bright spot for the Sooners was Jack Flansburg, who went 4-for-7, including a home run in game one of the doubleheader. Sheldon Neuse blasted a three-run homer in game two to give OU a 3-2 lead, but the Dirtbags would battle back as McCaughan claimed the 6-3 victory with six innings of work. The Sooners managed to win the series finale thanks to a three-run, walk-off home run from Hunter Haley to complete a ninth-inning comeback as Oklahoma defeated Long Beach State, 6-3. The victory marked the beginning of a six game win streak.

Oklahoma has lost four of its six match-ups all-time against Long Beach State. The two teams first met in 1989 at the NCAA West I Regional in Tucson, Ariz. The Dirtbags won, 11-4, in a winner’s bracket game. In 1997, LBSU got the better of OU, 1-0, in the opener of the NCAA South I Regional in Baton Rouge, La. Oklahoma picked up its first win of the series in 2006; a 2-1 decision at the Rice Tournament. P.J. Sandoval went toe-to-toe with future MLB pitcher Vance Worley to earn the win. In 2016, LBSU took the first two games before the Sooners won the series finale on a walk-off, three-run home run by Hunter Haley.

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