It looked like the Oklahoma Sooners' season was going to end with a whimper and be the first losing season for the program since 2003.
But there's a reason they play nine innings, and the Sooners made use of every one of them.
Sheldon Neuse's two-RBI, walkoff single with one out in the bottom of the ninth gave the Sooners an improbable 9-8 victory over Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament.
With the win, the Sooners stayed alive for another day and will play the loser of tonight's game between Oklahoma State and Texas Friday night at 7 p.m.
OU's Craig Aikin scored the winning run from second base on Neuse's single to right field. Aikin had to slide around the tag of Texas Tech catcher Tyler Floyd, but managed to swipe the plate as he cruised by, touching off a wild celebration on the infield at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
"The guys could've packed it in," OU coach Pete Hughes said. "That's not the group we have. These guys, they're grinders, they're motivated and try to figure out how to win games and today was really indicative of that. It was awesome."
The Sooners found themselves in an early hole, thanks to some shoddy defense and good hitting from Texas Tech. Oklahoma allowed four runs in the first inning and committed two errors, but probably should have been charged with four. Two plays by Neuse—a throw wide of first, and a sharp grounder that glanced off his glove—were initially ruled errors but changed to hits.
The Sooners never wavered mentally, and focused on correcting mistakes and getting back in the game one batter at a time.
"We knew they put up a pretty big number in the first," Neuse said. "We needed to see if we could match it and just win the game. We needed to get the momentum back in our dugout."
After that rough first inning, the Sooners settled down on defense and starting pitcher Jacob Evans settled in as well. Outside of the poor first inning, Evans was solid for the second straight outing, finishing with five strikeouts and seven hits in five innings of work.
"We didn't give him support in the first inning," Hughes said. "We probably gave them six outs but he kept his composure and kept pitching. He definitely minimized some situations that allowed us to come back and win in the ninth inning."
However, the Sooners weren't able to muster anything on offense thanks to Texas Tech starter Chris Sadberry, who kept the OU hitters off balance throughout the first four innings.
"Sadberry was really good," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "I thought that was the best command he has had in probably four starts. He was really hitting it hard the whole day."
The Sooners finally broke through in the fifth inning with a run on an RBI single from Neuse. OU gave those runs right back in the sixth inning when Ralph Garza Jr. got into a jam and gave up two runs. The Sooners faced a 7-1 deficit and things weren't looking good.
That's when the OU bats came to life. The Sooners loaded the bases with one out, and after Josh Ake struck out, Aikin knocked a two-RBI single to right field. The damage could have been more, but Texas Tech left fielder Tyler Neslony made a leaping catch against the fence, robbing Hector Lorenzana of an extra-base hit.
A run from the Red Raiders in the top of the eighth pushed the lead back to 8-3, and things once again looked bleak for the Sooners. But Oklahoma wasn't ready for its season to end just yet.
Kolbey Carpenter led off the inning with a home run, and then the Sooners loaded the bases with no one out, thanks to three straight singles. An RBI groundout and sacrifice fly put two more runs on the board, inching the Sooners closer.
The Sooners' comeback wouldn't have been possible if it hadn't been for senior reliever Kindle Ladd, who worked around a bases loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning without allowing a run, keeping the deficit at two runs.
In the final frame, Hunter Haley was hit by a pitch and Carpenter singled. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, Aikin singled to score Haley. Lorenzana was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases with one out and setting the stage for Neuse, who sent the first pitch from Tech reliever Dalton Brown into right for the game-winning runs.
"I got goose bumps immediately," Aikin said of his feelings when sliding home. "I looked up and saw the umpire and could tell we were on the same page. I didn't know coming around the bag. I saw the kid (the catcher) keep sliding to his left and kinda getting into my lane. I thought I was gonna have to go to the inside, but I was doing whatever I could to touch home plate. I knew I slipped just past him and he wasn't going to be able to put a glove on me."
The Sooners are hoping to ride the wave of momentum from Thursday's win toward defending last season's Big 12 tournament championship. With some many games played in a short amount of time, the momentum is easier to sustain.
"It's fresh; it's a quick turnaround," Hughes said. "We've done it the other way around, but it's much easier coming to the park when you are feeling good and feel like you can win in any situation like our kids did today."
The Sooners may have had a disappointing season, but they showed Thursday afternoon they're not ready to quit playing just yet.