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NO GRAY AREA: Oklahoma Ace Fans 12, Shuts Down Bears, 2-0

May 24, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Taking a squat behind the placard that read "Jonathan Gray," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said coyly, "I just want the check that's coming to him."

If pro scouts or anyone else had any doubts about the 6-foot-4 hard-throwing right-hander, he laid them to rest on Thursday afternoon when he struck out 12 and tossed a complete-game three-hitter as the fourth-seeded Sooners shut out fifth-seeded Baylor, 2-0, at the Big 12 Championship.

"I didn't have to hit off him, but from where I was sitting, I thought he was really good," said Baylor head coach Steve Smith, who compared Gray (9-2) to seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

"The way the game started, I wondered, 'OK, maybe he's not a mid-week guy.' But he settled down, and it looked like to me both he and the catcher really worked the game well together. . . . It's not all about the velocity. If all he had was the velocity, it'd be different. But he's got good slider command and good changeup command. He can just pitch."

Already taken twice in the Major League Baseball Draft, Gray is the projected No. 1 overall pick. But he had not won since April 27 and gave up seven earned runs on 15 hits and four walks in 11.1 innings over his last two starts.

On Thursday, though, the Bears (27-26) got to see the Gray that has every pro scout in the country absolutely drooling.

"The guy throws 97 (mph), but takes off on his fastball, which I thought was very effective against me," said Baylor senior designated hitter Nathan Orf, who struck out on his first at-bat before leading off the fourth with a double down the left-field line. "You're expecting a 97-mph fastball, and he throws one in the low 90s out of the same arm slot and everything. It makes it tough."

Baylor had small windows of opportunity - including the top of the first inning, when Gray's first six pitches were out of the strike zone - but every time, he would quickly close it.

"I thought, really, our performance today was about Jon Gray," said Golloway, whose team improved to 37-19. "I think that's pretty clear."

The Sooners, who lost two of three games at Baylor during the regular season, did just enough against junior righty Dillon Newman (3-4) in the first of three pool-play games.

In an April 12 game at Baylor Ballpark that pitted the same two starting pitchers, Newman gave up just one run on six hits in 8.1 innings in a game the Bears won, 2-1, on a walk-off homer by Cal Towey.

But this time, the Sooners scored a run just two batters into the game. Jack Mayfield followed up a leadoff single by Craig Akin with an RBI double down the left-field line that gave Gray all the support he would need.

"Oh, I think it was big," Golloway said of the first-inning run. "So many times, Jon's had to pitch, and it's been 0-0 or 1-1. That's what happened to him when he pitched at Baylor. . . . There have been a lot of games where he's gotten a no-decision, but he's been a warrior through it. So for us to score early was important."

Baylor had one of those windows in the top of the first, when Lawton Langford led off with a four-pitch walk and Orf got ahead at 2-0. Gray came back to strike out Orf, but Langford moved up on a pick-off throwing error and got to third on a Towey groundout before Jake Miller went down swinging.

"I really just had to clear my head and start over," Gray said of the outside distractions that included a 3 ½-hour rain delay. "But I didn't change the game at all. I just changed my confidence level and trusted everything I threw and threw it with conviction."

After working around a walk and two-out error in the second, Newman was touched up for another run on three hits in the third. But it could have been a lot worse.

Three straight singles, including a hit-and-run shot to left by Hector Lorenzana, extended the Sooners' lead to 2-0. With runners at the corners and only one out, Lorenzana was thrown out by catcher Brett Doe on a botched double-steal, and Newman retired Anthony Hermelyn on a weak grounder to second.

"I think we left a couple runs on the board," Golloway said.

Newman gave up a two-out single in the fourth to Taylor Alspaugh, who started his career at Baylor two years ago, before settling in and retiring the last 14 batters in a row.

"As I watched him today, I thought, he's the same guy I saw coming out of high school," Smith said of the junior from Belton, Texas. "He's an 88-90 (mph) guy, and he was that through the whole ballgame. He's made adjustments with his pitches that have made him very effective. He's a pitcher, much like (Gray). Dillon's not going to overpower you like that, but they both can pitch."

The Bears had another chance in the fourth, when Orf led off with a line-drive double to left.

"That was one he took off, and I was out front and hooked it down the line," Orf said.

Gray hit Adam Toth with an 0-2 fastball, putting two runners on base for the first time, but came back to get Grayson Porter on a fly ball to left.

It was a similar situation in the sixth, when Orf was hit by a pitch and went to third on a two-out single to right by Miller. But Gray once again worked out of it by getting Toth on a fly to shallow center field.

Obviously getting stronger, Gray struck out nine of the last 17 batters he faced and didn't allow a base runner in the last two innings. He was still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun in the ninth.

"Because of his three-pitch command and just the command of the game, he honestly reminds me of (Roger) Clemens," Smith said. "I'm going back a long time. He's really good, and it will be interesting to see which one of those two guys goes first - him or the guy at Stanford (6-5 senior right-hander Mark Appel). I think either way, you're making a pretty safe pick."

The Bears, who face top-seeded and 15th-ranked Kansas State (40-16) at 12:30 p.m. Friday, have to win the next two games and get some help to reach the Big 12 Championship final for the seventh time. If Oklahoma knocks off Texas Tech (25-29) in the early game on Friday or K-State on Saturday, Baylor is eliminated.

"We are in a situation where we need to win to stay above .500," Smith said. "If we stay above .500, then at least we're in the mix (for an NCAA tournament berth), and I'd like to be in the mix."

Senior right-hander Max Garner (3-6, 4.19 ERA) will start Friday's game and will be opposed by K-State freshman Levi MaVorhis (5-0, 3.33).

Here is a link to the boxscore from Thursday's Baylor-Oklahoma baseball game.