TCU Baseball is welcoming in another Big XII foe this weekend, as Oklahoma will make the trip south to face of against a Frog team that is still reeling from the shellacking they took Tuesday night at the hands of Dallas Baptist. The Sooners, on the other hand, come in hot - consecutive series victories against Texas and Baylor have them in the middle of a crowded Big XII race. Led by Pre-Season All-American Sheldon Neuse, OU is not a team to be taken lightly, but they will need to be on their game to take down TCU in Fort Worth this weekend. CC Machine manager M. Hofeld was kind enough to answer a few questions about where the Sooners are, and where they might like to be, ahead of the big weekend series at Lupton.
The Sooners started slowly, as they ran into the Texas Tech juggernaut to open Big XII play by getting swept on the road - though those losses don't look all that bad considering how good the Red Raiders have looked. After taking a pair of series from Texas and Baylor in Norman - plus a whooping of a DBU team that destroyed TCU in Fort Worth this week - what are the expectations for OU Baseball going forward?
I think if the Sooners can play .500 ball from here on out then it will be a success for them, especially considering the way they started the season. Pete Hughes has a young squad and a lot of them are growing up during the season. We've seen better hitting and more consistent pitching over the last month and that's the sign of a team that is maturing.
There isn't a part of me that believes that OU can compete for the Big 12 regular season title, but if they keep improving the way they have over the last three weeks then they could be a team that makes some noise in the conference tournament next month.
It seems the Sooners biggest problem this season has been that they just don't hit, despite being anchored in the lineup by one of the best players in the Big XII, junior Sheldon Neuse (hitting over .400 in conference play). OU hits for power - they are tied for second in the conference in both triples and home runs - but not for average; is this a matter of not getting the ball to drop at opportune times, or is there a bigger problem when it comes to pushing runs across the plate with consistency?
Sheldon Neuse has been the consistent bright spot on this team but keep in mind that he's a third year player and there aren't a whole lot of those type of guys on this squad. Swinging for the fences is the style of offense that Pete Hughes likes and, in his third year, he's got the kind of guys to do it with. The problem, as stated before, is that they are young, or inexperienced, or both, and hitting in clutch situations was disastrous early on. They are coming around though and starting to swing the bat with a little more emphasis. Hunter Haley was named the National Player of the Week last week for his performance in the Baylor series and then followed that up with a 5 RBI performance against Wichita State on Tuesday night this week. He's one of a handful of guys who are coming around.
Alec Hansen was a pre-season All American (along with Neuse), but he has struggled this season to say the least, posting a 7.65 ERA and lasting only 20 innings in his six starts. He's clearly talented, and one of the better pitchers in the conference when he is on, but he couldn't be more off to start 2016. Is there something physically wrong with him, is it bad luck, or has he just not found his groove yet?
He certainly has a control issue but defining the root cause of it is something that is driving folks nuts. Yes, the potential is there but getting that potential to produce positive results has yet to happen. I kinda feel bad for the kid because he was tabbed as one of the top pitching prospects in the country before the season started but was pulled from the starting rotation before the series with Texas and has since been relegated to bullpen duty where he's tossed just two innings of relief in Oklahoma's last two mid-week games.
TCU has certainly looked vulnerable at times, especially on weeknights and series openers. What will it take for the Sooners to win a series against a top ten team on the road, and how do you think OU will try and attack the Frogs at the plate and on the mound this weekend?
From the mound the Sooners are going to try and "pound the zone" and trust the defense to make plays. They don't really have the kind of guys on their staff who will strike out a ton of batters but they do have the type of guys who can make things difficult to get a clean hit.
I would also expect them to be aggressive from the plate. They'll swing early in the count and try to keep TCU pitchers from getting ahead in the count.
Is there one player to watch, outside of Neuse, that could be a difference maker for Oklahoma this weekend? Is there one player from TCU that you don't want to see be the guy to beat you?
I've already mentioned Hunter Haley so let me throw two other names out there. Austin O'Brien and Jack Flansburg are swinging really well right now. O'Brien has raised his average to .303 and Flansburg has been pretty clutch recently with runners on base. He's tied with Neuse and Haley with 24 RBI on the season.
As far as the Frogs go, I think it would be easier to list the players that we're not worried about than the ones we are. Five starters with a batting average north of .300 (including Elliott Barzilli at .436, Are you kidding me?) and a pitching staff that has guys with an ERA south of 2.10. Yeah, there's a ton of reasons to be concerned for OU.
Non-baseball: I think most of the Big XII kind of fell in love with Buddy Hield over the course of the last four years - when we weren't playing him. What is one thing, outside of his obvious talent, that you'll really miss about him being on the OU campus? Is there a team you think he would fit best on in the NBA?
Wherever Buddy lands in the NBA he's going to fit in. He has a magnetic personality and he's always been a leader. In the times that I've been able to interview him he's the last person who wants to receive credit and his coaches and teammates were the first. He's always humble, always has a smile, and always gracious. He'll certainly be missed for more than just what he did on the basketball court.
Thanks again to CC Machine for taking some time, and be sure to tune in Friday night for game one, which will be broadcast on FS1 with first pitch scheduled for 7:00pm.