OU pulls through series against Purdue

Sooners mashing home runs, striking out more during early-season success

There wasn’t much that was smooth about Oklahoma’s series this weekend against Purdue, except for maybe Taylor Alspaugh’s trot around the bases – and ensuing hat tip – after his first career grand slam Sunday.

The Sooners lost the opening game after a surprising four-run inning in the first allowed by pitcher Jake Elliott, then almost gave away a nine-run lead in the series’ rubber match.

But there were all those home runs.

Oklahoma hit four home runs in the series clincher Sunday bringing the weekend total to six. Last season, the Sooners hit 30 home runs all season. Still less than 20 games into this year, the Sooners have already hit 21, including four in the past five games from shortstop Sheldon Neuse.

“We're completely committed to the weight room,” Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said last week’s after a 22-run victory against Arkansas-Little Rock. “I know the mindset was a little different when we walked in the door. … You've got to get committed to the weight room so they get stronger.”

Hughes credited Tim Overman, Oklahoma’s strength coach, as a big reason for the turn around that has taken over the whole team.

Each starter has at least one home run, including lead-off hitter Craig Aikin, who mashed his first career home run a week ago. Neuse has a team-leading five home runs, followed by Kolbey Carpenter (4 home runs) and Austin O’Brien and Chris Shaw – each with three.

“I see a difference in body types,” Hughes said. “I see a difference in the amounts in the weight room in what we're lifting and how we're testing and I think that is what is showing on the field right now.”

Strikeout numbers are also up, as Oklahoma excels at the flashy parts of the game. Last season, Oklahoma averaged 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. This season, that number is up to 9.28.

“You've got to have stuff too to get punch outs,” Hughes said. “It's coming. It's coming through their strength and conditioning. Guys have made jumps.”

Everything wasn’t perfect for Oklahoma in the series against Purdue. Alec Hansen struck out eight in seven innings without allowing a run, but outside of the home runs on offense, nothing was rosy for the Sooners (12-6).

After a poor showing in the opener that was really just one bad innings, the Sooners bounced back for the series win – another big change from last year but in the category where it counts the most.

“We have a resilient bunch,” Hughes said to reporters after Sunday’s game. “[The players] came out here after Friday, flying around ready to go. That’s what I preach all the time. College baseball is a sprint, practically playing every day so you don’t have time to feel bad for yourself or to let a game beat you twice. It’s critical for us this season to not get caught up in that and just stay focused.”

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