Baseball: Starting rotation to headline potential college world series run
The Oklahoma baseball team was two wins away from making its second trip to Omaha in three years, but the South Carolina Gamecocks ended the Sooners’ season in last year’s Super Regional round.
OU, ranked No. 19 by Baseball America and No. 15 in the USA Today/coaches’ poll, learned from its early postseason departure in preparation for the 2013 season.
“I think it showed that as close as we were to Omaha, you can’t give up,” junior pitcher said Dillon Overton, who was named a Preseason All-American. “You’ve got to keep going because we were two games away, but we just didn’t keep going and make it there.”
Coming into the 2013 season, the Sooners’ clear strength is on the mound.
Overton — a lefty who had a 6-3 record and 3.15 ERA last season and is slated as the Friday-night ace — and junior pitcher Jonathan Gray — a righty who posted an 8-4 record with a 3.16 ERA in his first season at OU — provide arguably the deadliest one-two punch of any weekend rotation in the nation.
“It’s as good as any [two starters in college baseball], there’s no question about it,” coach Sunny Golloway said. “I’ve never had two potential first-rounders [in the weekend rotation].”
Joining the two junior pitchers, who are team captains, in the weekend rotation will be junior transfer Billy Waltrip, a lefty from Seminole State who struck out 95 batters while boasting a 7-2 record and 1.60 ERA last season.
Waltrip, a hard-throwing lefty, was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 12th round last June, but decided to come to Norman because of the high praises he heard about the program, he said.
“I didn’t want to just go out there [into the pros] and just be iffy on it,” he said. “I came here because I heard coach [Jack] Giese was the best pitching coach in the country. So I wanted to come in and get completely ready, win a national championship and then go.”
Opponents’ runs may come at a premium price with these three on the mound during the weekend, but that may be the only way the Sooners win games once they play legitimate opponents.
Golloway admitted Saturday during the team’s Media Day that the offense, a squad that has been in question since scoring just one run in last year’s Super Regionals, is far from being up to par.
“[The team’s hitting is] a major concern,” he said of his squad that hit just .262 last season. “We are continuing to try to get our athletes to buy into manufacturing runs. It’s all about teaching young men what they have to do and perform and coaching them up.”
The team’s batting average was the second worst in the Big 12 least season and was not good enough to crack in the top-50 team averages last year. That’s something the team knows it needs to improve upon if it has any chance of reaching Omaha.
Luckily for the Sooners, though, their top three hitters are returning for the 2013 campaign.
Senior left fielder Max White, senior shortstop Jack Mayfield — both of whom are team captains — and junior designated hitter and infielder Matt Oberste hit .337, .280 and .312, respectively, last season.
“Coach (Golloway) always says hitting’s a journey, you’re never going to get there,” said White, who drove in a team-high 55 runs in 2012. “You’ve got to keep working on it, keep fighting for that swing.”
Although the Big 12 has not released its coaches’ predictions poll, Golloway believes his team should be listed as the second-best team in the conference behind new-addition TCU.
“(TCU) might enter our league in the first year as favorite,” Golloway said. “That would be pretty amazing...they’re a great addition.”
OU opens its season against Hofstra at 3 p.m. Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park in a series that kicks off a six-game homestand and will continue through the weekend.