OU baseball: People are afraid of Sooner pitchers, Golloway says
Astrud Reed, The Oklahoma Daily
AT A GLANCE
In baseball, it’s said that pitching wins championships.
If that old adage holds true during the 2012 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship tournament, the Sooners have to like their chances of making their second trip to Omaha in three years.
“[Pitching] is the most important thing, and that’s the thing that everybody is talking about around the country,” coach Sunny Golloway said. “There are some teams they’re talking about nationally that you wouldn’t want (to play), and the reason they’re talking about us as a team that you wouldn’t want (to play) is because we’ve got those power arms.”
Composed of sophomore starters Jordan John, Dillon Overton and Jonathan Gray, and anchored by junior reliever Steven Okert, Oklahoma’s pitching staff is one of the best in the nation from top to bottom.
“They pitch the heck out of it,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said. “Somebody’s going to have to deal with that in a regional, and that’s going to be interesting. They just need to do what they’ve been doing on the mound.
“They’re very impressive to me on the mound.”
According to Golloway, this group of hurlers is the best he’s ever coached at OU, and the left-handed Jordan John, in particular, has emerged as the Sooners’ ace.
“When we played [John] in Norman a couple weeks ago — I’m guessing it’s because he had a little wind behind him — the game was fastballs,” Smith said. “I mean, it was attack, attack, attack, and he kept it for seven, eight, nine innings. And we come out here [in the second round of the Big 12 tournament], it’s thumb it, thumb it, thumb it first time through the order, and then (he) got more fastballs going. That takes a pretty good guy to do that.”
But the Sooners are far from a one-horse show.
“Our first guy, Jordan John, is really good, and he gives our team a tremendous amount of confidence,” Golloway said. “But I don’t think our confidence drops off when Gray or Overton are on the mound, and it clearly doesn’t drop off when you got Okert in the game out of the bullpen.”
John, Gray and Okert each have eight wins this season and are tied for fourth place in the Big 12 in the category.
“We are very excited about the momentum we are bringing into the postseason,” John said. “The key for us, as a pitching staff, is to continue competing and making teams earn runs.”
Coming out of the bullpen, Okert leads the Sooners with 27 appearances and is tied with John for the team-lead in saves at four, in addition to being virtually unhittable during the Big 12 tournament.
“The bullpen’s got plenty of arms,” Smith said. “I don’t think there will be anymore left-handers around that will be more dominant than [Okert] with what he’s got.”
But don’t forget about Overton.
Overton, who started the year 4-0, battled John throughout the regular season for the top spot in the weekend rotation but had a spell of bad luck during the last half of the season before finishing the year with a 5-3 record.
But the lefty from Weatherford, Okla., still turned in a productive season, ranking third in the Big 12 in strikeouts — three spots above John — with 109 and averaging just more than nine strikeouts a game.
Although there’s no longer a competition for the Friday night role, Overton said the approach remains the same.
“Going into the playoffs, I don’t think it changes at all,” Overton said. “We’re all just trying to get three, four wins, trying to make it to the next level and make that ultimate goal of going to Omaha.”
In his most recent start, Overton threw 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State and Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Andrew Heaney in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
According to Overton, a major part of his success — and the entire rotation’s — can be attributed to a coaching staff that has unflappable faith in its pitchers.
“It’s everything (that our coaches have confidence in us),” Overton said. “That way, when we go out there, we don’t have to think about anything else except throw it and do what we know how to do.”
There’s no doubt Oklahoma has top-flight pitching, but the Sooners’ Achilles' heel for much of the season has been their sporadic lineup.
Still, Golloway said that he likes the fact that his team is built around a core of solid pitching.
“With the BBCOR bat, I don’t think anyone wants to rely on their hitters anymore,” Golloway said. “The key is going to be how much we have to go to the bullpen and if they can get to our starters early.”
At the end of the day, though, it all whittles down to going out and playing the game.
“We’ve been through a lot of stuff throughout the whole season, and right now we’re just going out there and having fun, playing for each other and playing for our fans,” Overton said. “That’s all we can do.”