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Oklahoma pitcher Bobby Shore vividly remembers his last appearance in a World Series: It was in 2001 when he played for the West Little League All-Star team in Riverside, Calif.
"I faced Danny Almonte, and he struck me out," Shore said with a laugh, of course.
This time, things are a little different.
|The last time Bobby Shore played in a World Series, it was of the Little League variety, when he faced Danny Almonte.|
Shore's performance in an 11-0 win against Virginia in the super regional final was only part of a complete performance by Oklahoma (49-16), which enters the College World Series peaking at just the right time. The Sooners' bats are hot -- right fielder Cody Reine seems to hit a home run every time he steps to the plate-- the confidence is high and the momentum is strong. Shore is coming off an MVP performance in the Norman Regional, and even first baseman Cameron Seitzer snapped a 1-for-19 slump in the NCAA tournament with a solo home run in the second inning against Virginia on Monday.
Everything is clicking for Oklahoma, which is making its first College World Series appearance since 1995 and 10th overall. The Sooners, who have won 14 of their past 16 games, begin the double-elimination CWS format against No. 5 South Carolina on Sunday.
"This Oklahoma ballclub is a dangerous club going to Omaha. They really are," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "They're swinging the bats like they are, they've got athletic kids. They remind me a lot of our club last year. Bobby Shore pitched a heck of a game. If he pitches like that in Omaha, they'll have a chance to win."
Especially if Reine keeps swinging for the fences. Reine hit a pair of three-run homers in the Charlottesville Super Regional, finishing with four homers in the three-game series. Five of his 10 home runs this season have come during the NCAA tournament, and as a team, the Sooners have homered in 20 of the past 23 games.
"Cody's a great player," Shore said. "He's a really good player. He can hit. He didn't start the season for us, but he came on strong when he got in. We realized it right away when he started playing -- he's clutch."
So is Shore.
He has started each of the weekend-clinching games in the NCAA tournament, where he is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA, 11 strikeouts and two walks. He allowed just four hits, two walks and struck out five batters in eight innings on Monday. In the Norman Regional, Shore struck out six batters while giving up four hits in the 3-2 win over North Carolina that sent the OU to the super regionals.
Shore said playing in the Big 12 conference has helped prepare the team for the postseason.
"We play in a real tough conference, the Big 12," Shore said. "Our conference tourney got us ready to play in big atmospheres against really good competition. We've faced a lot of good players and hitters. We're a confident team."
And they should be. The Sooners haven't lost back-to-back games since mid-April. OU ranks second in the Big 12 in hitting (.312) and third in ERA (3.79) and fielding percentage (.976). OU leads the conference with 100 home runs. Not bad for a lineup comprised of six sophomores, one freshman and two juniors.
Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said the key to that confidence has been pitching and defense down the stretch. The Sooners' pitching staff ranks second in the Big 12 with 562 strikeouts and has 26 games with 10 or more strikeouts, including 14 of the past 39. The OU bullpen is 21-2 with 15 saves on the season and a 2.76 ERA.
"I really think that our starting pitching has been the key for us," Golloway said. "What pitching and defense does at this time of year for every team that's in the World Series, it allows hitters to have an opportunity to do some great things."
And that, in turn, has allowed Oklahoma an opportunity for something great in Omaha.
Heather Dinich covers college sports for ESPN.com.