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Grant Stevens’ career outing lifts Oklahoma past Duke in NCAA Regional

NORMAN – In an elimination game against Duke on Sunday afternoon, NCAA Regional host Oklahoma kept its Super Regional hopes alive by defeating the Blue Devils 4-3.

OU won its first game of the NCAA Tournament with a convincing 14-0 victory over Oral Roberts, but fell to Connecticut 4-1 on Saturday night to advance Skip Johnson’s team in a win or go home matchup against Duke.

Senior left-hander Grant Stevens started on the mound for Oklahoma and had one of the best performances of his career, finishing with seven strikeouts while giving up just one earned run on six hits and two walks in seven innings.

On offense, second-year catcher Easton Carmichael was the only Sooners player to have multiple hits against the Blue Devils, going 2-for-4 at the plate.

Behind Stevens, OU’s defense turned in a stellar performance, turning double plays, making notable catches in the outfield and not letting the Blue Devils get anything on offense after the first inning.

To start the game, Duke leadoff hitter Zac Morris he made a two-strike double down the right field line to put a runner in scoring position with no outs. Later in the Blue Devils’ at bat, freshman outfielder AJ Gracia hit a hard-hit ground ball through the infield to score Morris.

Duke’s next hitter, Alex Stonehit a grounder to Jaxon Willits that the freshman shortstop turned into a 6-4-3 double play to end the half inning.

After a free run by the star centerfielder Johannes Spikerman in the bottom of the first inning, the junior appeared to be hurt when he slid into second base while attempting a steal. Spikerman, who initially looked safe, fell off the bag in pain and was tagged out.

Spikerman re-entered the game on defense in the second inning and sprinted to the warning track in left centerfield to catch a deep ball.

In the bottom of the second inning, Willits and Nicklaus walked, putting runners on first and second base with one out. Senior outfielder Kendall Pettis hit a sacrifice fly to right field that moved Willits to third base Rocco Garza Gongora hit it up the middle to score the true freshman and tie the game.

Freshman outfielder Jason walking followed by a bases-clearing triple to score Nicklaus and Garza-Gongora and give Oklahoma a 3-1 lead.

Spikerman hit a deep shot to right field, but Gracia made an incredible catch against the wall to rob the Sooners’ star of what would have been a home run and end the second inning.

With a runner in scoring position and two outs in the top of the third inning, Pettis made an incredible catch on a deep ball to left field, hitting the wall as he sprinted to make the play. The senior’s defensive heroics saved a point and marked his second impressive upset of the game.

The Sooners managed to load the bases in the bottom of the third inning, but Duke escaped the jam unscathed when Pettis went down with two outs.

In the fourth inning, Garza-Gongora and Walk were both hit by pitches, putting two runners on base with no outs. However, Oklahoma was unable to score again, as Spikerman hit a fielder’s choice earlier Bryce Madron flied out to left field and Garza-Gongora was thrown out at home trying to score on the same play.

Duke put two runners on base with only one out in its next at bat, but a big strikeout by Stevens and an errant pop-out ended the Blue Devils’ chances to score. OU managed to get runners on first and second with only one out in the bottom of the sixth, but Walk and Spikerman struck out in consecutive at-bats to end the inning.

The Sooners added another run in the bottom of the seventh when Michael Snyder hit a one-out double off the wall in left field to score Carmichael. to push Oklahoma’s lead to 4-1.

In the eighth inning, senior right-hander Carson Atwood entered the game in relief of Stevens, gave up a double, a two-run homer and a single in the outfield and recorded just one out before being replaced by second-year right-hander Malachi Witherspoon.

Witherspoon retired the next two batters, sending the game to the bottom of the eighth inning with OU leading 4-3.

With the season on the line in the top of the ninth inning, Duke couldn’t muster any offense as Witherspoon quickly retired the side to secure the game for Oklahoma.

OU’s win advances the team to the finals of the Norman Regional, where they will meet Connecticut in a rematch of Saturday night’s game on Sunday at 8:06 p.m. If the Sooners can beat the Huskies in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, they would play Connecticut again on Monday with a trip to the NCAA Super Regionals on the line.

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