Sooners' victory is worth the wet

Kendall Rogers

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OMAHA, Neb. – It was a grueling yet rewarding day for Oklahoma.

Taking the field in front of 25,000 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium was something the Sooners thought about for days after punching their first College World Series ticket since 1995 with a super regional series win over Virginia last weekend. But when game time against South Carolina arrived Sunday, the Sooners weren't exactly taking the field in front of that many fans. It was more like 5,000.

They can thank Mother Nature for the pedestrian crowd. Inclement weather forced the game, which was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. CT, into a delay that lasted more than four hours, with first pitch coming at 5:25.

Another rain delay just 94 minutes in added to the frustration and pushed the continuation of the contest, which was in the sixth inning, to 9 p.m. It finally ended at 10:19, with the Sooners taking a 4-3 victory against South Carolina in what easily was the best first-round matchup thus far.

"I kept looking at my watch during the delay and realizing that we left our hotel at 10 a.m.," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. "I thought the competitiveness and focus of the game even after the delay was impressive. I really thought both teams performed well.

"We were in for a great long rain delay on Father's Day, and there was nowhere we'd rather be than here [in Omaha]."

The Sooners didn't know they wouldn't be playing for more than four hours when they showed up to the ballpark, and starting pitcher Michael Rocha was busy getting himself mentally prepared for the showdown with the Gamecocks well before the original start time.

Rocha isn't the most physically imposing guy in Omaha, but he was the pitcher who essentially gave the Sooners hope against Virginia last weekend when he matched All-American Danny Hultzen in the series opener.

Though the rain delay was tough for some, a visibly tired Rocha admitted after the game that not too much was different about his day, which included a solid performance. The right-hander struck out only two batters but allowed just two runs on five hits in six innings before rain and lightning sent many fans to the exits.

When the game finally ended and the Sooners congratulated each other in the infield, it was Rocha that should've received the most congrats. After all, he set the tone for the game.

"I talked to Rocha about this [after the game], but we really have competed well on the mound," Golloway said. "He struggled with his slider, but it is a compliment to him that he still was able to make pitches."

Rocha's night was finished after the second rain delay, but the rest of the Sooners, including relievers Jeremy Erben and Ryan Duke, still had the elements and sitting around to deal with. And on a stage like this, sitting around isn't the best way to combat a nerve-wracking first-round matchup.

The Sooners, though, had no issues adjusting to the weather delays. They simply went to the clubhouse, where some players goofed off, others rested and some told stories.

No matter the case, OU wasn't interested in letting something like the weather get into its head. This OU team, which has spent the entire season defying all odds, once again displayed its toughness.

"It's not real easy, it's tough," Oklahoma's Caleb Bushyhead said about the rain delay. "We planned to play, though, and kept that in our minds throughout the delays. Our club is built on mental toughness and we kept the right mindset.

"We're all about sticking with it and toughing it out."

That toughness has become the Sooners' premier quality. They entered the season with many question marks because of major draft losses last summer. They had a losing conference record at one point during the regular season. And they went on the road and beat a national title favorite last weekend to get to Omaha.

On a night Oklahoma made its magical return to Rosenblatt, storms weren't about to be an obstacle for this team.

Overcoming anything and everything has become the Sooners' way of life.