NORMAN, Okla. — New OU baseball coach Pete Hughes announced the 2014 schedule Wednesday and there’s some big changes.
First-year head baseball coach Pete Hughes has set up an RPI-boosting schedule for 2014, including non-conference dates against Big 12 foes Oklahoma State and TCU.
Positive changes, but big changes.
First off, instead of the usual two Bedlam games at Bricktown Ballpark Saturday and Sunday and series opener in Tulsa Friday, it’s reversed.
On Friday, May 15, the two will square off at Bricktown Ballpark, before taking to Tulsa’s ONEOK Field for the game two games of the series May 16 and 17.
“I’m new on the block, OK, and I got the background on it and they said every year it was two in Bricktown, one in Tulsa,” Hughes said. “I’m like, if I’m Josh Holliday, I’m saying, ‘Hey, that’s not fair.’ Right? I guess their recruiting base is more structured out of Tulsa, so it’s more advantageous for them to play in Tulsa. So, you know what? It makes sense. It’s fair.
“And I think it’s great for college baseball and the state of Oklahoma, you know, for us to have a presence in both cities, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It’s great for us in recruiting. We’ve got to have a presence in Tulsa, too. And it’s fair. I think it’s a great idea.”
Also new to the slate is a non-conference game against Big 12 opponent TCU.
That takes place March 18; OU also has an out-of-conference home-and-home with Oklahoma State, playing host to the Cowboys April 1 and visiting Stillwater April 15.
“You combine the non-conference games, quote-on-quote non-conference games TCU on a Tuesday and Oklahoma State twice, is a chance if you have success to build some RPI and strength of schedule there,” Hughes said.
Left fielder Hunter Haley, though he's injured, is back for the Sooners 2014.
The rest of the non-conference isn’t a cakewalk either.
OU opens up Feb. 14-16 with Seton Hall, a program that narrowly missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season and plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a pair of games on the team’s initial five-game series opening home stand.
Games against The Citadel, UCF and Ohio State take place as part of the Central Florida Tournament in Orlando, Fla.
“I think it’s good just to get into a consistent, warm climate and play some quality opponents early on,” Hughes said. “You know, I didn’t schedule that so it wasn’t done from the East Coast standpoint recruiting edge. Honestly if we can’t get it done in Oklahoma and Texas and pick our spots here and there, then we’re doing the wrong things recruiting, the wrong approach. So, that was done just to get into a more consistent climate and play a quality opponent in a quality tournament.”
The next week features another tournament in Surprise, Ariz., home site of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers’ spring training facilities, with Manhattan, Santa Clara, Arizona State and Gonzaga on the docket.
Some other non-conference games on the schedule include home series with Rutgers, Belmont and Cal State Bakersfield, a home date with UALR and home-and-homes with Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist.
“I think the more difficult you schedule non-conference, specifically weekends early on, the better RPI you have, the better strength of schedule you have, but more importantly the more prepared your team is going into conference play,” Hughes said. “So, I think there’s just way too many advantages to schedule some difficulty rather than go the easy route. And I like our schedule early on, you know. Seton Hall, they got squeezed out of the national tournament last year. [They] play in the Big East, a really good league.
“And we’ll play Citadel that’s been in the tournament in the past years. UCF was a tournament team two years ago, a very good program. Ohio State will have some good RPI. Arizona State and then the three-game set with Rutgers, that’s a pretty solid schedule.”
Taylor Alspaugh will be a key contributor for the Sooner outfield in 2014.
And not only will the Sooners get to play in the Rangers’ spring training facility, but they’ll also get a chance to play on their actual field at the Ballpark of Arlington.
OU heads to Texas-Arlington March 11 for another meeting between those two.
“I’m excited about that,” Hughes said. “Yeah, that’s great. It’s great for recruiting. It’s a great venue. It’s great for our players. You know, it’s one of the nicest parks in the country, so our guys are a bit fired up for playing in that, and I’ll be fired up. I have a feeling my kids will be missing school that day. I’m pretty sure.”
As is the case with conference scheduling, the Sooners will play all eight other teams in the Big 12, hosting Kansas State, Texas, West Virginia and Baylor and traveling to Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU, plus the neutral in-state rivalry.
Hughes is excited not only about the schedule, but also about the guys he has coming back.
“I like our guys,” Hughes said. “They’re good kids. They work hard. You know, everyone’s—I’m a new coach so I’m not seeing much personality—everyone shuts their mouth and doesn’t talk to me. But I tell you they work hard. They’re pretty motivated, a lot of energy and a lot of talent, a lot of depth on the mound. I noticed that. I know we’re young, but there’s depth. You know, when you play 56 in a short period of time, you better have depth. I think we’re very advanced defensively. That was the thing that’s really jumped out at me. Our infield play is outstanding.”
Highlighting the return on that infield is senior second baseman Hector Lorenzana, along with first baseman Kolbey Carpenter and catcher Anthony Hermelyn is back behind the dish after a great freshman season.
Left fielder Craig Aikin, who will move back to center, and right fielder Taylor Alspaugh, shifting to left, plus outfielder Colt Bickerstaff, who worked as designated hitter from time to time, are all back, as is Hunter Haley, though he's currently injured.
Though OU loses No. 3 overall draft pick Jonathan Gray and second-rounder Dillon Overton, a lot of talent, as Hughes stated, returns on the mound, including closer Jacob Evans plus likely starters Ralph Garza, Jr., Adam Choplick and Corey Copping.
Kindle Ladd and Drew Krittenbrink are two nice returners in the bullpen.
The Sooners have already hit the diamond for fall ball, and practices are open to the public.