There’s one key difference in Oklahoma’s lineup that sets the team apart from the rest of the field at the Men’s College World Series.

The Sooners have youth, and plenty of it.

While the Sooners’ lack of experience could be seen as a negative as they chase their first national championship since 1994, it certainly hasn’t limited them so far. It was youth that helped propel the Sooners on their late-season run, particularly when OU coach Skip Johnson inserted true freshmen Jackson Nicklaus, Wallace Clark and John Spikerman into the lineup.

“Picking those guys up and putting them in the lineup in the middle of the year was big for us because they stepped up in a big way,” OU redshirt sophomore Jimmy Crooks said Wednesday. “They’ve been doing their job and hopefully they can continue to be successful.”

The Sooners youth kept it going in their MCWS opener against Texas A&M Friday in Omaha, Neb.

Seven of the Sooners’ nine starters were underclassmen, accounting for eight of the team’s 11 hits and 11 of their runs in a 13-8 win over the Aggies. No hit was bigger than Nicklaus’ grand slam in the fourth inning, which marked just the third grand slam ever recorded at Charles Schwab Field during the MCWS.

In comparison, three of the Aggies starters were underclassmen and they accounted for just two of the their eight runs.

It wasn’t just Nicklaus that came through offensively. Spikerman tied for the team lead with two runs and had two hits. Redshirt sophomore Blake Robertson led the team with three RBI. Crooks’ three-run homer in the second inning capped off the Sooners’ seven-run performance in the frame.

On the mound, redshirt sophomore Jake Bennett recorded the win after throwing three strikeouts and surrendering five hits in six innings pitched. Johnson confirmed that Norman native Cade Horton, a redshirt freshman, will start for the Sooners’ second-round game against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Sunday, per Josh Callaway of SI Sooners.

That reliance on youth has been successful for the Sooners all season, and it doesn’t look like that will change much as the team continues in Omaha.

“It just shows you the sign of our development program and what we try to do to develop those guys as young men and baseball players,” Johnson said. “I think that’s what’s special about our program.

“We always knew how dynamic [Spikerman] was… I think Wallace Clark at times has been one of our team MVPs. [He’s] grinded at-bats out, just trying to win pitches. It’s been fun to watch.”

The Sooners’ young players have grown together through this postseason run, and Nicklaus said the goal remains just focusing on one pitch at a time.

“I’m really close with John Spikerman. [He’s] probably my best friend on my team,” Nicklaus said. “We hang out a lot … We chat about what’s going on, how we’re feeling, how to stay loose, how to experiment, how to take everything head on and stay under control, because it’s easy to get under control at this stage, being this young.

“But, like we said earlier, [we have to] ride the wave. We know we’ll struggle and have highs and lows. [We’re] just trying to maintain a steady pace.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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