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Sooners Finish off Blue Devils; Advance to Regional Final

Norman, OK- After Oklahoma fell to UConn on a picture-perfect night in their ballpark, they were greeted with high winds and a monsoon that prompted a two-hour delayed start to Sunday’s elimination contest with Duke.  The Sooners and Blue Devils entered the affair as the top-two seeds in the Norman Regional, both succumbing to the 3-seed Connecticut Huskies, forcing them to dual for the second spot in the regional final.  The winner would need to beat Jim Penders’ club two times to extend their season.  Before that though, the Sooners and Blue Devils would have to play each other, first beating the weather.  

The Blue Devils got the scoring started early, when freshman AJ Gracia plated Zac Morris from second.  The RBI marked the 56th of the year for Gracia, setting a record for most runs-batted-in by a Duke freshman.  As Duke started Fran Oschell took the mound with a 1-0 lead, allowing two base-runners wasn’t an ideal start for the righthander, though catcher Macon Winslow came to the aid of his starter, nailing John Spikerman and later Easton Carmichael as they attempted to steal second base.

The chaotic Oklahoma offense settled in their next turn at the plate as the Sooner bats turned two walks in to their first run of the afternoon.  It was Rocco Garza-Gongora who snapped out of his funk to produce the first Sooner run.  Freshman Jackson Walk ripped a two-RBI triple to center, scoring two more runs for the home team, both in hosting status and on the scoreboard.  The Oklahoma threat concluded with an over-the-wall home-run robbery from Gracia.  The Sooners quickly returned the favor when Kendall Pettis made an outstanding catch of his own against the wall to rob Gracia of extra bases to end the Duke half of the third inning.  

Duke skipper Chris Pollard handed the ball to relievers Owen Proksch and Jimmy Romano, who allowed the Sooners to load the bases in the bottom half of the third.  Romano was able to set Pettis down on strikes, escaping as the Blue Devils remained within striking distance.  Oklahoma starter Grant Stevens continued to get outs, scattering six blue devil hits across his first five innings of work.  Duke threatened to end the fifth inning, though the bases loaded 1-out opportunity was squandered.  On the way in to the dugout, Duke third-base coach Ty Blankmeyer was ejected from the ballgame, leading to an extended conversation between Pollard and home-plate umpire Patrick Riley.  Pollard stated the explanation received from this interaction was unacceptable, feeling nothing outside of the parameters of competition occurred.  

Stevens remained on cruise control, side-stepping danger and striking out four prior to Duke handing the ball to their fifth arm of the game when James Tallon was replaced by Charlie Beilenson in the 6th inning.  Beillenson worked in spite of the ducks on the pond left behind by Tallon to keep the deficit at 3-1.  

Stevens surpassed pitch number 100 in the seventh inning, prompting his exit after a phenomenal outing.  The southpaw Senior threw seven complete innings, giving up six hits, walking two, striking out seven and giving up just one run, in the first inning.  Reliever Carson Atwood entered the game following an additional Oklahoma run being driven in off the bat of Michael Snyder. 

Atwood allowed leadoff hitter Zac Morris to stroll to second with a double before Gracia deposited a baseball just over the 410 marker in center.  All of the sudden, the Sooner lead was trimmed to 4-3.  

The tumultuous 8th inning for Atwood forced Skip Johnson to turn to Sooner closer Malachi Witherspoon, looking for his fifth save of the season.  Witherspoon danced out of trouble, relying on his 97 mile per hour fastball to set down Logan Bravo and Chase Krewson.  Witherspoon faced less pressure in the ninth, mowing the Blue Devil attack down in order, ending the season of the ACC Tournament Champions.  Oklahoma will play UConn later tonight, and will have to win both tonight and tomorrow to advance to a Super Regional. 

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