NORMAN — Matt Oberste is experiencing that magical time in a baseball. The ball that leaves the pitcher’s hand is appearing bigger than its standard 91⁄4 inch circumference.
“I’m just hitting balls in the right count and in the right area,” Oberste said. “I’m hitting it to right field if it’s outside and reacting to it if it’s inside.”
When someone is batting .500, which Oberste is after 23 games and 88 at-bats, he usually has a way of making hitting look and sound very simple.
Oberste has done it. The Sooners’ cleanup hitter hasn’t hit at the incredible pace by getting a bunch of bloopers to fall. He has 44 hits and 18 of them are for extra bases, including seven home runs.
But the problem Oberste is about to face is that the Sooners (19-4) are on the verge of opening Big 12 Conference play. TCU (9-11) comes to L. Dale Mitchell Park at 2 p.m. today for the first of the three-game series.
There are a lot of ways to win conference games, but teams have to earn the right to get their red-hot slugger pitches to hit. It means the hitters in front of and behind Oberste have to do their part.
It means leadoff hitter Jack Mayfield and two-hole Craig Aikin must get on base. Three-hole hitter Max White must make opposing coaches understand that pitching to him is as dangerous as pitching to Oberste. Five-hole hitter freshman Hunter Haley must make them pay if they pitch around Oberste to get to him.
“That’s gonna be the key,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “It’s gonna come down to what Max does and what Aikin does. If they’re not going to pitch to Max, then they have to pitch to Obe. It’s worked out pretty well thus far. But you don’t want to have first base open when Obe is coming up. It’s my job to manage the game. You won’t see Max trying to steal a whole lot. Will you see guys pitching to Obe a lot with Max on first base, we’ll see.”
Oberste went 7 for 10 in OU’s two-game sweep of Oral Roberts earlier this week. It’s doubtful TCU is going to give Oberste much to hit today or over the weekend in the final two games of the series.
There’s a maturity required to handle being pitched around. You have to be ready if a pitcher makes a mistake and finds the fat part of the plate. However, an overaggressive approach will turn a hot hitter into a slumping one in the blink of an eye.
“He has to stay patient. In league play, it’s like a whole new stat sheet. I don’t want him to try to do too much,” Golloway said. ”If he doesn’t get the same pitches and he tries to hit at this pace, he could find himself getting into trouble. We’ll address it when it comes. We won’t worry about it until it happens.”
Perhaps, Oberste will get the same opportunities today he has all season. Odds are he won’t. Big 12 Conference play means all involved have to make adjustments.
Follow me @john_shinn