NORMAN — The Sooners finally cleansed their palate.
OU had little reason to tune in when the bracket was revealed for the 2021 NCAA Baseball Tournament last May. The Sooners went 27-28, their first losing season since 2003, and it came as no surprise when they didn’t hear their name called.
“Last year, we didn’t get that opportunity,” OU head coach Skip Johnson said. “It was like it left a little bad taste in our mouth.”
But this year’s selection show was a different story.
When the Sooners held a watch party on Monday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, it wasn’t a matter of if they would get to play again. It was a matter of where they would play.
The answer: The Gainesville Regional.
OU will travel to Gainesville, Florida, as the No. 2 seed. The rest of the double-elimination bracket consists of No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Liberty and No. 4 Central Michigan.
The Sooners begin with a game against Liberty on Friday at noon.
“I’m excited to see what we do,” redshirt sophomore Peyton Graham said. “This is what we’ve been working for all year, to get in the position that we’re at right now. Hopefully, we’ll capitalize on it.”
Graham’s play is a big reason why OU enters the postseason as one of the hotter teams in the country. He showed out during the Sooners’ Big 12 Tournament run at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, which is about 40 miles from his hometown of Waxahachie.
Graham had seven RBIs and a pair of home runs in a four-game stretch that ended on Sunday with OU earning its first conference tournament title since 2013.
“It was pretty surreal,” Graham said. “You always see it on TV when you’re growing up. To be able to play in that stadium and that environment was pretty neat. I’m excited we took care of business and won it.”
OU held out hope that its conference tournament run would be enough to host a regional for the first time since 2010. The team boasts an RPI of 19, which is the third-highest ranking among all No. 2 seeds in the field.
“The committee got to a point where we liked the 16 (hosts) and agreed that Oklahoma fell just short of getting into that 16,” NCAA Baseball Committee chairman Mike Buddie said during ESPN’s bracket reveal. “Certainly not ideal, but again, something that we talked through.
“We made sure that we considered every angle and we landed where we landed.”
The Sooners must now make it out of a competitive Gainesville Regional.
Florida (39-22, 15-15 SEC) has won 16 of its last 21 games. The Gators reached the title game of the SEC Tournament on Sunday before falling to Tennessee, which is the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Central Michigan (42-17, 30-7 MAC) is also in the mix after winning its conference tournament championship. The Chippewas are in their third straight NCAA Tournament.
Liberty (37-21, 19-11 ASUN) fell to Kennesaw State on Saturday in their conference tournament’s title game, but they earned a 2-1 series win over Florida back in February.
“We get to go to Gainesville, and they’re going to be really good,” redshirt senior Tanner Tredaway said. “I think we’ll just go into it like we do for any other series. We prepare the same way. This team does a really good job of that and just staying focused.”
The winner of the Gainesville Regional will face the winner of the Blacksburg Region in a best-of-3 series. That bracket consists of No. 4 national seed Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, Columbia and Wright State.
Friday’s games at Florida Ballpark
► Oklahoma (2) vs. Liberty (3), noon (ESPN+)
► Florida (1) vs. Central Michigan (4), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU baseball: Sooners land No. 2 seed in NCAA Gainesville Regional