The Norman Transcript

February 20, 2014

Neuse shows off skills in rout over Arkansas-Pine Bluff

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma rolling to an 11-0 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday was not a shock. It was another bench-emptying performance by the Sooners, who have now won four straight.

But those who were at L. Dale Mitchell Park on Wednesday were able to see the full gamut of freshman Sheldon Neuse’s talent.

It ranged from a three-run homer in the first inning to eight innings at shortstop to getting the final three outs on the pitcher’s mound. There wasn’t much more OU coach Pete Hughes could’ve put on the freshman’s plate.

“I’ll take whatever’s there,” said Neuse, who lifted his batting average to .316 with Wednesday’s 2 for 3 effort. “Whatever coach throws at me, anyone on this team is gonna do the best they can to do whatever he sets out there for us.”

So much for easing Neuse into college baseball.

The Fort Worth, Texas, native came to OU as the most highly touted recruit to arrive on campus in August. ESPN.com ranked Neuse as the No. 1 prep player in Texas last season and the best player in the Midlands.

Obviously, he’s lived up to the hype. Neuse has been in the No. 3 spot in the Sooners’ batting order every game this season and shuffled between starts at shortstop (his position in high school) and third base (where major league scouts project him to make a living).

But Hughes also sees Neuse’s potential in the bullpen.

“He can handle it,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t believe in the kid and the competitor. He loves to compete. Here’s a kid who is 18 years old and shortstop and hitting in the three hole and late-inning bullpen guy. I would feel good about having him on the mound in a late-inning pressure situation.”

Of course, Neuse’s debut on the mound wasn’t exactly a pressure situation.

The Sooners quickly built a six-run lead after three innings. After Neuse’s homer — his second of the season — the Sooners tacked on two more runs in the second inning and Mac James added an RBI double in the third.

The Sooners (4-1) had 10 hits with three going for extra bases. James had doubles and Niko Buentello added a two-run homer — the first of the freshman’s career — as part of a five-run inning.

Sophomore right-hander Corey Copping picked up the win in a four-inning effort. Copping was held to a 60-pitch limit, finished at 63, and allowed just four hits and struck out two.

Jim Ploeger took the loss for Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He gave up six runs on six hits.

OU used seven pitchers Wednesday. The Sooners head to Orlando, Fla., where they will open play against the Citadel as part of a round-robin tournament in which they’ll also meet Central Florida on Saturday and Ohio State on Sunday.

The Sooners committed two errors, but the shutout was the first of the season and marked the first time in five games OU has not issued a walk.

“That was our goal going in, a lot of pitchers, our key bullpen guys,” Hughes said. “We wanted to get Sheldon Neuse on the mound for the first time. We wanted to play clean baseball.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

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