The Norman Transcript

June 11, 2013

Sooners set next season’s sights on Omaha

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma can look back on a season that includes the program’s first Big 12 tournament title in 16 years and third Super Regional berth in four years. It was a quality year.

Was it a successful year?

“We want more,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said after his team’s 11-1 loss to LSU Saturday. “The goal is always going to be to advance to Omaha.”

The Sooners, who went 43-21 this season, are at a point where anything less than a College World Series berth leaves a hole in the season’s accomplishments.

There was several pieces OU had this past season that made that dream a realistic goal. Jonathan Gray was the most dominant pitcher in college baseball this season. There weren’t many teams that had a No. 1 starter pitcher of Dillon Overton’s caliber. OU had those two going, Nos. 1 and 2 in the pitching rotation.

It had the starting pitching and experience with center fielder Max White, shortstop Jack Mayfield, third baseman Garrett Carey and first Matt Oberste to make a deep run.

All those players have likely played their last games as Sooners. White and Mayfield were seniors. With their exits, the last fragments of the 2010 College World Series team are gone.

Gray, Overton and Oberste — all juniors — were high selections in last week’s Major League Baseball draft. All are expected to being their professional careers later this summer.

But the undercurrent of the Sooners’ 2013 season is outside of that group of five, it was freshmen who played the dominant roles.

OU had four in the lineup Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La. Left fielder Craig Aikin, catcher Anthony Hermelyn, designated hitter Colt Bickerstaff and right fielder Hunter Haley were all freshmen this season.

Aikin and Hermelyn were every-day players. Bickerstaff and Haley joined Kolbey Carpenter as players who moved in and out of the lineup this season.

All of them hit over. 240. None of them showed a ton of power, but that’s something that usually develops over time.

All of them fit into the model of what Golloway is trying to build.

“It has to be pitching and defense and you have to be athletic. Carpenter, Aikin, Haley, Hermelyn are all that,” Golloway said. “You have to be a good athlete. You have to be able to run the bases and you have to be able to do things. That’s what we’ve been moving toward.”

The same goes with the pitching. OU will lose its entire weekend pitching rotation because Jake Fisher is also a senior.

But OU relied heavily on freshmen Ralph Garza Jr. and Jacob Evans out of the bullpen. Both will likely jump into the weekend.

“They showed this season they are guys we can count on,” Golloway said.

Will they match what Gray and Overton were able to do over the last two seasons? It’s a high standard; Gray was the No. 3 overall pick in the major league draft. Overton was a second-round pick. College teams are usually able to stockpile that kind of talent.

The key is they’ll be around for two more seasons. Last year, OU went heavy on high school players because the developmental ceiling is higher.

If that truly is the case, the decisions will pay off in the future.

They know where the bar is for the rest of their career. Golloway admits there were still goals sitting on the table. The biggest was getting to the College World Series. Failing to win the Big 12 regular-season is something the Sooners have on their list every year.

With what OU has coming back and coming in, the talent pool will be deep enough to shoot for Omaha again next season.

Eight of the players OU has coming in next season were selected in the MLB draft. Players have until August to sign.

Still, there’s no reason to lower the bar.

“I’m excited about it,” Golloway said about the future. “I’m mad we didn’t get to Omaha. If we could’ve gotten a hit here or there early, those games would’ve been different. We didn’t, so we have to get more physical because we have to find a way to get it done.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn