The Norman Transcript

Sports

May 1, 2014

Sooners again at a critical juncture

NORMAN — A season that looked promising in March ends April teetering between trying to salvage the season and already looking toward next season.

Oklahoma made a case for the latter with Tuesday night’s 9-1 loss to Dallas Baptist at L. Dale Mitchell Park.

There wasn’t anything positive to take away from the performance. OU was out-hit, out-pitched and out-defended in their sixth straight loss. It’s been like that for the last four games of its current six-game losing streak. Take away the 6-5 loss to Texas-Arlington, which was the streak’s second loss, and all of them have been by at least four runs.

That can happen to young teams that are feeling their way through a conference season.

“You don’t finger point. You keep grinding,” OU coach Pete Hughes said. “It’s how I’ve always done and it’s not going to change.”

The Sooners (25-21, 5-10 Big 12) haven’t had anything near an established lineup this season. Tuesday was the 32nd version Hughes has employed in 46 games.

Aside from center fielder Craig Aikin in the leadoff spot, two through nine has fluctuated. Tuesday, the lineup included eight freshmen or sophomores either starting or being used as pinch hitters or defensive replacements.

Young players struggling is nothing new. However, the struggles typically manifest later in the season.

The reason is scouting reports become more detailed at this point. Young players are having to react to them for the first time.

Hughes has done his best to keep them out of bad situations. Outside of third baseman Sheldon Neuse, Aikin, catcher/first baseman Anthony Hermelyn and outfielder Hunter Haley, he’s platooned his sophomores and freshmen based on left- or right-handed pitchers.

“You don’t want guys to get beaten down,” Hughes said. “With the young guys you have to be careful. There’s a fine line between putting them in there and developing them. Too much failure can really slow their progress down mentally. It’s delicate. But we’re not going to lose sight of what we have to do in terms of the big picture. We have to keep working and stay positive because we do have a bright future.”

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