Year In Review: Baseball
With only a few games left Sooners look to lock in Big 12 Championship
Astrud Reed, The Oklahoma Daily
Key Hitter: Matt Oberste
Batting Average: .425 (team high)
Homers: 10 (team high)
RBIs: 50 (team high)
Doubles: 17 (team high)
Started the season with a 30-game hit streak, which set an OU record.
The No. 12 Oklahoma baseball team still has its plans within reach, but its future is far from being set in stone.
With two weekends to go in conference play, the Sooners (34-14, 11-7 Big 12) are tied for first and still have a shot of earning a NCAA Tournament host bid. But based on the way college baseball has played out this season and how the Big 12 is in a down year, OU will have to win the Big 12 to obtain that host spot.
If the Sooners do slide during the last few weeks of the season, they will be risking their spot in the NCAA Tournament, coach Sunny Golloway said.
“If we don’t play well down the stretch, we won’t be in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “You could arguably finish second or third in this league and have an RPI of 50 and be left out.
“Our league right now is not worthy of more than two teams probably.”
But OU does not have anything but a conference title on its mind. It remains in the best position to win its first regular season Big 12 title despite at times playing like a team that would not make the NCAA Tournament.
Of the Sooners’ 14 losses, four of them have come during midweek games against unranked opponents. Those are the games teams in a national title hunt should be able to win, and two of those losses in a double-header against Arkansas-Little Rock on April 16 in Norman provided a new career-low for Golloway.
But despite those four bad losses and some inconsistent play, OU never has been ranked outside the top 20 in most major polls and has hovered around No. 10 for the last few weeks.
So why is there a risk of not being able to host when previous Oklahoma teams without as quality of records at this point of the season have hosted before? Well, the Sooners’ RPI has not been too favorable recently.
After the double-header loss against Arkansas-Little Rock and playing New Orleans in a three-game set in one week, the Sooners’ RPI dropped from No. 22 to the mid-40s.
Since then, OU's RPI has stayed within the 30s and 40s, which is not a place Golloway's club would like to be if it does not hold on to win the Big 12.
The Sooners’ RPI does not match what a conference leader with a record like theirs should be, but if they win games, everything will work itself out, Golloway said.
“I can’t put my pulse on it,” he said. “I don’t understand really what’s going on with the RPIs … everything’s made it extremely goofy. We’ve got to play well.”
Although there have been some inconsistencies this season that has forced Golloway to shake things up, one thing has remained constant: junior pitcher Jonathan Gray.
In 12 starts, Gray has an 8-1 record and a 1.20 ERA while striking out 104 batters and walking just 16. He went through a three-game stretch against Northwestern State, TCU and Kansas in which he lasted nine innings and struck out a career-high 12 batters in each game.
Gray’s success has not been a secret. Every game he starts has a slew of MLB scouts in the stands, and a couple MLB general managers have made trips to Norman to see what they could be drafting.
What they saw made them believers that Gray could be a major league pitcher within the next few years.
The 6-foot-4, 239-pound righty consistently has thrown 94-101 mph fastballs out of both the windup and stretch while mixing in an 86-88 mph slider. And for good measure, he turns to an 83 mph changeup if he needs it.
What his pitches, his season and his makeup have done is make him the potential No. 1 or No. 2 pick in June’s MLB Draft. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have expressed interest in drafting Gray in one of those two spots, he said.
“I’ve had a lot of guys from the Cubs, and Astros have come and talked to me quite a bit,” he said. “That’s a pretty good spot to be."
Gray will have to continue to be on top of his game considering what’s happened to the weekend rotation recently.
Junior pitcher Dillon Overton has missed his last two starts because of an elbow injury, but he should be back before the Big 12 Tournament, Golloway said.
Despite some inconsistencies and the RPI rankings, the Sooners control their destiny.
Continue to win, and they should be Big 12 champs and a regional host. Start to lose, and their road to Omaha will be made with a suitcase.
“We’re just going to roll out and play our game and not do too much,” senior third baseman Garrett Carey said. “We should come out on top if we do what we’re capable of doing.”