OU baseball: Sooners gear up for conference schedule with last weekend series
Astrud Reed, The Oklahoma Daily
Coach Sunny Golloway called Wednesday night’s matchup against New Mexico State a trap game.
The same could hold true for this weekend’s series between the No. 23 Oklahoma baseball team and Northwestern State, which starts at 6:30 Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
The Sooners (14-4) will be playing in their final weekend series before starting their conference schedule when TCU comes to Norman on March 22. So, other than putting two or three more “Ws” in the win column, OU has to avoid a trap series while making the final tweaks before starting its Big 12 slate.
“You don’t want to A) not play well and B) lose,” Golloway said. “Those things go hand-in-hand.”
And following a poor week last week — OU went 1-3 with losses against UT Arlington, USC and No. 17 Notre Dame — the Sooners did what they needed to do during the midweek to make sure they are building some momentum.
“Right now, we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas,” Golloway said. “We’ve got a club that’s really making strides. It’s a young club that’s really starting to come on.
“The last thing we want to do is lose ground the weekend before [starting Big 12 play].”
And the players know they have some momentum building up before squaring off against TCU, junior pitcher Dillon Overton said.
“We’re just trying to find a rhythm and get ready for conference,” he said. “We want to try to get to our best baseball going into conference, and we’re working at it.”
Overton is one of those players who have struggled recently and are trying to right the ship. Although he threw a complete game last Friday, he has thrown back-to-back shaky outings.
In his last two starts, Overton has allowed 11 runs — 10 earned — on 19 hits in 14 innings.
But what’s most concerning about his last two outings is the fact he has not been as accurate as he was in his first three appearances. All seven of Overton’s walks have come in the last two games, and he credits some flaws in his mechanics that he’s been trying to fix.
“[I’ve been working on] just staying back over the rubber a little bit more and driving off my back leg,” Overton said. “I’ve thought about it mentally, and I’ve worked at it a bunch in practice and after games.
“I’m just trying to keep having fun and stay calm out there.”
Overton’s recent struggles and junior pitcher Jonathan Gray’s recent success — he’s coming off a shutout performance against UCLA — has forced Golloway to make some changes in the starting rotation.
Gray will be making the Friday start after being the Saturday guy all season, and Overton will be tossing Saturday’s game, which is slated for a 2 p.m. first pitch.
“It wasn’t really a punishment,” Golloway said. “If one guy is playing better, and they play the same position, that guy should be able to go first. We’ve got to switch them up.”
Redshirt freshman pitcher Adam Choplick is scheduled to pitch Sunday, and Sooner fans may see an appearance for freshman hurler Corey Copping, who has missed time because of an injury, Golloway said.
While the Sooners have been streaky at the plate and some of the younger players are coming around in clutch situations, Sooner Nation should continue to keep an eye on junior first baseman/designated hitter Matt Oberste. He has a hit in all 18 games this season with a .448 average and is tied for fourth in program history with a 21-game hit streak dating back to last season.
“I don’t think I’ve been on a stretch like this,” Oberste said. “I try not to think about it. I try to think of something before the game just to get my mind off it.”
OU’s hit-streak record is set at 27 games, and if Oberste were to reach that mark, he would do so by the series opener against TCU.
But before Oberste can get to that mark, he and his teammates have to get through the next five games that starts with a three-game set this weekend against a team both Golloway and Overton admitted they do not know too much about. Although they know the basics about Northwestern State, the lack of knowledge should not trip up the team, the skipper said.
“Yeah, it could be a little bit of a trap, but we won’t let it be,” Golloway said. “That’s the biggest key: We won’t let it be.”