Preview: Cochell optimistic about new season

Seen inside for Oklahoma head coach Larry Cochell's position-by-position preview of the 2005 season. Cochell's Sooners, who finished 38-24 and earned an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago, will open against the new season in the Coca-Cola Classic against Gonzaga at 4 p.m. Friday in Surprise, Ariz.

OU Head Baseball Coach Larry Cochell enters his 15th year of coaching searching to regain the touch that made him one of the most successful coaches in college baseball history.

A year ago, the Sooners finished second in the Big 12 and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament after finishing 38-24 overall, but thanks to coaching unrest and a confused team the Sooners were never a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament.

In many ways, Cochell has nobody but himself to blame for many of the things that happened a year ago, but he is not totally to blame. However, Cochell says the buck does stop with him and that is the way any good head coach will handle things.

Cochell had grown crossways with pitching coach Ray Hayward and Director of Baseball Operations Aric Thomas and thus he made changes following the end of last year. I didn't agree with those decisions at the time, but that is why Cochell makes the big bucks.

One thing that is certain is that by all accounts Cochell made a good hire in new pitching coach Fred Corral, who did a fantastic job at Tennessee. Now, Cochell has his guys in order. He still has Sunny Golloway as his right-hand man coaching third base, and now he has a pitching coach he believes in.

The Sooners return six starters from a year ago, but the pitching staff is depleted. Fireballer Daniel McCutchen is the main arm on the staff, and whether he starts or closes is a key decision that Cochell will have to make.

"We feel very good about our team that we will put on the field," said Cochell. "Our catching is going to be solid with Matt Bose and freshman Jackson Williams. Bose has been a three-year starter for us at the corner positions, but his future probably is at catcher and we are finally going to get a chance to give him that opportunity to get behind the plate.

"Then, we feel very comfortable with Eric Thornton at first base, Russell Raley — the All Big 12 second baseman, Ryan Rohlinger, who we didn't have at the first of the year, at short. Rohlinger had an outstanding summer in the Cape and he was named the MVP of their post season tournament.

"Kevin Smith is a left-handed hitter who will play third and bat third or fourth in our lineup. He will remind folks of Greg Dobbs, who is in the big leagues now. We have also added Freddie Rodriguez, who was the outstanding junior college defensive infielder a year ago in California. He can play any infield position for us."

"In the outfield, we have four junior college players, two returning players and two freshmen. Our stiffest competition is going on in the outfield," Cochell continued. "However, all of our outfielders can run and throw, and we feel very good about our outfield."

Jeff Scuderi, Scott Rooker and Aaron Ivey are the returnees, but none of them may start. Junior college transfer Chuckie Caufield out of Seminole Junior College has been drafted three times and will get drafted again out of OU. The odds are he will be the starter in centerfield when an ailing hamstring heals. In the meantime, Scuderi might draw the nod, but Caufield is more than likely to win the job moving Scuderi to right field.

Kody Kaiser, who hit 18 home runs last season in high school, will start the season in right with Rooker drawing the start in left. Cory Williamson played with Caufield at Seminole and Joe Dunigan is a freshman from Chicago where he clubbed 18 home runs during his prep career. Williams and Dunigan bat left-handed, while the other four swing from the right side, which will give the Sooner coaching staff some flexibility. Dunigan's power potential has earned him the start as the Sooners left-handed designated hitter.

Of course, pitching will be the key to the Sooners success this year. Oklahoma lost their top three pitchers from a year ago when David Purcey, Mark Roberts and Jarod McAuliff all went in the major league draft.

The Main returnee is hard throwing Daniel McCutchen[/b,] who will either be the Friday night starter or the closer. Ryan Mottern was a spot starter a year ago and Tyler Gooch will be more of a factor out of the bullpen this year after jumping back into baseball following a two year stint as the starting quarterback at the University of Tulsa.

"Junior college transfers P.J. Sandoval, Steven Guerra, John Brownell and Will Savage are all battling for spots in the rotation, and we think Garrett Patterson is ready to have a brea-out year for us as a left-handed pitcher," said Cochell. "In fact, this weekend we are going to start Brownell (RHP) in the tournament opener against Gonzaga, then roll-out McCutchen for Arizona State on Saturday. We will probably start Patterson on Sunday against South Alabama.

"Early in the year all the pitchers will be on pitch counts, so they will have to be backed up by Sandoval, who can start or close, Guerra, Savage and Brownell. If we have a closing opportunity Sandoval would probably get the call. Another pitcher that we are very excited about is Brad Burns out of Gracemont Lookeba-Sickles, Okla. He stands about 6-4 and can throw 90-plus. He has a great upside to him and he reminds me a lot of Mike Moore, who pitched for me at ORU and pitched 14 years in the Big Leagues."

When Cochell has his best teams they pitch well, play good defense and play small ball with the best of them. If they have a little power then that is a bonus. Cochell believes this year's squad can bunt and run with the best of them.

"This team is young and has some new faces, but we have some returning players at key positions," said Cochell. "We have a number of guys who have good foot speed and this will be a team that can run well. hat will allows us to bunt, hit-and-run and steal, which will put pressure on the opposing defense. Then we have power from the left side from Thornton, Smith and Dunigan, while Kaiser, Bose and Rohlinger can hit with power from the right side. We have some balance in our line-up and off the bench, which is good late in the game."

"We are not going to hit a lot of home runs, but we will hit a few," Cochell continued. "We will have good gap power and with our ability to run many of those doubles will be triples. I am optimistic about this team. I know we have been picked 7th in the Big 12, but we all feel we are much better than that. We play a very tough schedule, but I think this team can handle that. I feel this is going to be a season we can be proud of."

The Sooners will face Gonzaga Friday at 4:00 p.m. On Saturday, OU will match-up with Arizona at 5:00 p.m. and then close out their opening weekend Sunday against South Alabama at noon. All three games can be heard on the Sooners new flagship station KOCK (1520 AM) or on the premium section of

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