2010 CWS Preview: Oklahoma

OU logo For a team that lost the majority of its starting lineup in the previous year’s draft, the Oklahoma Sooners didn’t miss a beat in 2010. In fact, the added more beats, making it all the way to the College World Series for the first time since 1995. The Sooners, NCAA Champions in 1951 and 1994, will be making their 10th overall appearance in Omaha, which ranks them 13th in all-time appearances. It wasn’t an easy road for Sunny Golloway’s club, having to beat the #5 seed Virginia in Charlottesville to advance.

Oklahoma started off the season hot, before cooling off during the month of April. Since beating the Texas A&M Aggies in 13 innings in College Station, the Sooners got hot again, losing only two of their final 16 games. After a second place finish in the Big 12 conference, the Sooners swept through their regional in Norman before traveling to Virginia to battle the Cavaliers. After dropping the opening game, 3-2, the Sooners won game two, 10-7, and crushed the Wahoos 11-0 to advance back to Omaha in search of their third title.

Hitting

The Sooners finished the year with the second best batting average in the Big 12, .312, but their 100 home runs easily makes them the conferences most powerful sluggers.

Sophomore 3B Garrett Buechele, who comes from a major league pedigree thanks to his father Steve, was the leader of the Oklahoma offense. Buechele’s .371 average, 16 homers, and 64 RBIs are all at the top of the board for regular starters. The second team All-American from Arlington, Texas, is by far the most dangerous weapon for Golloway when the Sooners are at bat.

While the star, Buechele isn’t the only player in crimson and cream that can cause damage to the scoreboard. Fellow sophomore Chris Ellison, the team’s centerfielder, proved the ability to use his speed to put himself and his team in position to score. After swiping only four bases in his freshman campaign, Ellison led the Sooners with 23 stolen bases in only 26 attempts. The .335 hitter also led his club with 15 sacrifice hits and 29 bases on balls.

Freshman OF Max White and sophomore 1B Cameron Seitzer are the main power threats behind Buechele. Both players hit 15 home runs, while hitting above .300 and putting up identical .604 slugging percentages. White garnered Freshman All-American honors from the National College Baseball Writers Association and Louisville Slugger, making him the first Sooner since Austin Mix in 2000 to achieve the feat.

Junior 2B Danny Black, sophomore SS Caleb Bushyhead, sophomore OF Cody Reine and sophomore C Tyler Ogle all hit over .300 in 2010, with Reine adding 10 home runs and Ogle with nine.

Needless to say, the Sooners have the bats to make it deep into the field in Omaha.

Pitching

While Oklahoma’s bats draw a lot of attention, there is no reason to think they hit their way to Nebraska. There used to be a day when teams could slug their way to the title, but nowadays, the winning team usually has a deep pitching staff.

The Sooners boast three pitchers who can help them beat nearly any team, and a bullpen that can shut down any late rally.

Led by a pair of junior right handers, Bobby Shore and Zach Neal, this Oklahoma staff is one of the stronger ones in the nation. Shore has started 16 games this season, going 10-4 with a 3.86 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 91 innings. Neal, the ace on last year’s 63-1 NJCAA National Championship Howard College team, started 17 games, going 8-3 with a 4.65 ERA. He struck out 88 batters in 98.2 innings, and added a complete game.

RHP Michael Rocha, a player the Sooners picked out of the Texas Longhorns’ backyard, finished the season 7-2, including a win over fellow CWS participant TCU. The junior finished with a 3.57 ERA, and struck out 53 batters to only 19 walks in his 68 innings of work.

Jack Mayfield, Jeremy Erben and Ryan Duke are the three players tabbed with finishing out games.

Erben, a senior RHP from Texas, was 7-1 on the year with a 3.65 ERA, but out of the bullpen, he was 7-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 29 appearances.

Duke was the team’s closer throughout the season. The junior RHP was 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA and 11 saves. The right handed freshman, Mayfield, finished 5-0 with a 2.49 ERA, including a win in the second game against Virginia.

Those six players helped the Sooner staff keep their ERA to 3.79, and are a large part of their late season run.

Forecast

The Sooners aren’t favored to win, but counting them out could be a costly mistake to those teams that must face them at Rosenblatt. Their first game is against South Carolina, a fellow unseeded team that upset fourth seeded Coastal Carolina. After that, the Sooners will square off against either unseeded Clemson or top seeded Arizona State.

In order for Oklahoma to make it out of their bracket, they must not skip a beat. If they can carry the momentum they have built from the end of the season and through the post season, they have a very good shot at playing late into the week, and possibly even in the Championship Series. With Texas failing to make it, the Sooners are the lone team from the Big 12, and must represent the conference in the final year of Rosenblatt Stadium’s CWS hosting duties.