OU baseball: Sooners taking improved, energized offense into conference tournament

·3 min read

May 24—Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson has been around college baseball a long time.

Johnson was a four-year college baseball player before spending the last 27 years as a college coach, including the last five at the helm for the Sooners. In recent years, Johnson has seen a trend emerge throughout the sport.

"If you look at the numbers of it, college baseball is all about offense," Johnson said during his media availability Monday. "The guys that could go in the first round, those pro teams aren't going to miss those [offensive] guys... It's becoming an offensive game."

Fortunately for him, the Sooners are keeping up with the trend. It's been the Sooners' offense that helped end the regular season in third place in the Big 12 standings with 33 wins.

The Sooners' offense kept up with the best teams in the conference, though it didn't start that way. It took 11 games for the team to score more than six runs in a game, which came in an 8-7 win against Dallas Baptist.

Since then, the improvement has been steady and consistent. The Sooners finished third in the conference in runs (411), batting average (.298), walked batters (307), and they finished first in on-base percentage (.418).

All of those stats are an improvement over last season, but one area where they improved dramatically is stolen bases. Sooner base runners stole 130 times — which ranked second in the conference — compared to 46 times last season.

"[OU assistant coach] Reggie [Willits has] done a great job of integrating that with the offense and stuff that we do, and kids have taken ownership," Johnson said. "They take a lot of pride in it and it's been fun to watch."

Heading into this week's Big 12 Tournament, the Sooners are also playing at their best. In their last four conference series to end the regular season, the Sooners combined to score 46, 43, 40 and 24 runs, respectively.

"I think that those guys are playing with a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "They're having really good at bats individually. For example, [last weekend] Peyton [Graham] had a man on third base with one out and he's 0-of-2 and he flies out to the right fielder and drives a run in, sacrificing himself for the betterment of the club.

"I think those types of things we've done really well at — situational hitting and playing offense, bat control, bunting, doing all those things — I think we've done a really good job. We've gotten better and better. Can we always get a lot better? Absolutely. When they take ownership and they continue to take ownership in it, it's been really fun to watch."

The Sooners are also in a much better position heading into the tournament this season compared to last year, when they didn't pick up a win and missed the NCAA Tournament.

This year, the Sooners are ranked firmly inside the Top 25 and aren't in real danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. They even have an outside shot of securing a top-16 seed and hosting an NCAA regional, depending on how they do this week.

However, Johnson has emphasized focusing on one game at a time.

"We can't control what those guys' mindsets are in the NCAA and selection committee," Johnson said. "What we've got to do is play our part and play good baseball. My deal is just go out and have fun and play baseball and do everything fundamentally right. Try to be good one pitch at a time because that's what really matters."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580