Golloway: "We will reload"

Oklahoma head coach Sunny Golloway breaks down the Sooners' Super Regional loss to Rice, the departing senior class and takes an early look at who will factor in where on next year's team. The Sooners' 45 wins under Golloway in 2006 were the most at OU since the National Championship season in 1994.(AP Photo)

The Oklahoma Baseball team ended their outstanding season with a sad defeat in the Super Regional, losing 9-5 to end the season at 45-22. It is always tough to lose when you are just one game away from the ultimate prize in college baseball, and that is of course the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The Sooners had talked about the magic number of 580 all season, which is of course how far Omaha is from Norman. The fact that Oklahoma earned the right to host a regional, and then came from behind to win the regional certainly showed the Sooner baseball program was back among the top programs in college baseball. And the fact the Sooners went to Houston and won a game in the Super Regional against the top team in college baseball, also showed they weren't that far off from being among the elite in college baseball.

"Our student-athletes did a great job for us this year. I think the thing that I would like the fans to know is how much of a privilege it was to coach seniors like Chuckie Caufield, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Smith and Ryan Rohlinger, just to name a few," said Golloway following the game three loss to Rice. "After the game, I looked Ryan right in the eyes and thanked him for not signing last year and coming back. We are so proud of him. He was a 21st rounder last year and a 6th rounder now this year. What a terrific player. Look how much better he has become in one year."

"We are proud of a lot of the firsts that we accomplished this year, and we are pround a lot of the wins," Golloway continued. "However, we are no more proud of that over the individual athletes that we had the privilege to coach. What a great young man Chuckie Caufield is. I don't have time to talk about all of them, but our players are special and our senior class was special. I am getting a little emotional thinking about not being able to coach those guys. I am going to miss their smiles, attitude and their efforts."

The 9-5 loss in game three on Monday was a very emotional game for the Sooners. Both teams were battling a Major League strike zone, which means a tighter zone where you almost have to throw a perfect pitch. It was affecting both teams and neither were happy with it, but once OU fell behind the pressure of dealing with the strike zone fell on them.

The OU coaching staff was chirping at the umps from the dugout until finally volunteer and first base coach Andrew McGuire was tossed from the game. That brought McGuire out of the dugout to argue the decision, and soon coach Golloway followed him. Golloway was able to get McGuire off the field, but as he tried to find out why McGuire was tossed, he tossed a little dirt on home plate and that cost him an ejection as well.

"It was a very emotional game, but I want to make this very clear — I don't think the umpires lost the game for the Oklahoma Sooners," said Golloway. "I thought the Rice Owls performed terrific and they are No. 1 in every major poll for a reason. What a great job Wayne Graham (Rice Head Coach) has done with that program. We knew that it was going to be a tall task going in there and they are very talented. Josh Rodriguez, at third base, is going to play in the big leagues some day.

"Their shortstop, Brian Friday, is just a sophomore and he is going to be a first-rounder next year. They are just talented all the way through. Joe Savery hit the bomb against us and then another freshman, Aaron Luna, hit three homers against us. Rodriguez and Luna are just freshman, and it makes you realize that they are just keeping this thing going. Lance Berkman started it and they are keeping it going."

"They are talented, but we fought and that is what caught my eye," Golloway continued. "We didn't go in there and get intimidated. We were taken to a No. 1 Super Regional site, and did the 15-3 win in Norman (regular season against Rice) really matter? It really did matter when we look back, because our kids did fight in all three games. I think they went in there and gave everything that they had and sometimes you don't get breaks."

"There were some borderlines that we needed to get some calls for," said Golloway. "So we just started to pull the old Gary Ward and work the umpires a little bit. After I had been warned, I couldn't say anything about balls and strikes. So Coach (Fred) Corral and Coach (Tim) Tadlock were trying to get us some calls there, not doing anything inappropriate but once you have been warned they do have the right to toss you.

"They turned and tossed coach McGuire and I didn't have a problem with it, I just asked them (umpires) why did they do it? I asked them what did he say? It actually bought our pitcher a little time there and I kicked some dirt on home plate. In hindsight, I wish I had not done that because that gave them a reason to toss me. They didn't do it until I went over there to sit down and they walked over and said you have to leave too. I said, 'Who tossed me?' And we had a discussion about that."

"However, that had nothing to do with the outcome of the game," Golloway continued. "Rice played great and they hit the ball better than we did. And in the long run, they probably pitched quite a bit better than we did. We will reload. We have some great athletes coming and we are really looking forward to getting everything going for next year."

While many times a manager will get thrown out by an umpire to inspire his team, Golloway said he really didn't want to get tossed in that situation.

"I didn't want to get tossed," said Golloway. "I want people to know that. A lot of time I tell the coaches that when you do get tossed, you do it for the right reasons. There are times when you really have to fire up your club and you have to say enough all ready. I did not want to go, especially in a Super Regional. I know how hard our guys fight when I am right there with them, and it was gut-wrenching to watch the last three innings inside a training room inside the facility. It was tough. I wish I had not even scooted that dirt on home plate.

"I really didn't think I would get tossed for it, to be honest with you. And when I did I was extremely upset more so at myself than anybody else, because I am taking full responsibility and I have to live with the fact that I feel I let my guys down a little bit in those last three innings. I know that I have a beautiful family, I have a great job and we have a great future here. We are going to look to that future and thank our seniors for what they did this year."

The 2006 Sooners were the comeback kids, as it seemed they always lost the first game of every series only to come back and win the series. The Sooners were never out of a game and always battled to the end, but in the end they didn't have enough pitching to get to the College World Series.

"We just didn't have that pure closer that so many other teams have," said Golloway. "I can remember in a Super Regional where Augie Garrido (Texas Head Coach) brought in Huston Street in the seventh inning and he needed nine more outs with a one run lead. He won that game by one run. Huston recorded nine of the next 11 batters for outs. A couple of guys threatened, but they never scored. I was thinking about that in our Super Regional when (John) Brownell ran out of gas. If we had that pure closer, that pure strikeout guy that was really nails, and if we had not used him in the first two games he would have been able to do that.

"You look back over the course of the year and we didn't have a Bucky Buckels or Jeff Bajenaru, and we have to find that guy. That is our responsibility to go find those guys, find two or three of them, and then work them hard and let one of them rise to the top. We need to get that pure closer. That is what is going to take us to the next level. That probably would have secured us one of the national seeds, and probably would have given us an easier road to Omaha. We will do that. That is the thing that Coach Corral and I have to pin-point. We will go out and get that guy."

Of course, in the Super Regional the Sooners' starting pitching failed for the most part. Outside of the great effort by McCutchen in game one, senior Steven Guerra and sophomore Ryan Mottern failed to get through the second inning.

"We know we have to get more out of the starters than we did against Rice. They are really hurting right now," said Golloway. "They really feel like they let their team down. They are amateur athletes and we are big on taking responsibility. I think back to last weekend when Guerra beat Houston after we had lost that crucial game on Friday night against TCU. He was a champ for us. And then Mottern beating TCU in game three of the regional here. If we had performances even close to that, because it wasn't like they hit Mottern, he just had trouble finding the strike zone. The same thing kind of with Guerra. If we had performances like that then there is a good chance that we move on. Our defense and our bats matched the No. 1 team in the country, but we just didn't quite match what they did out of the bullpen."

The Sooners will have to replace 12 seniors, most of whom played a big role on this year's team. Rohlinger, Russell Raley and Kevin Smith were starters all year at third, second and first respectively. Freddy Rodriguez started most of the year at shortstop only to lose his job in the Regionals to junior Aaron Reza. Chuckie Caufield was a super leadoff hitter and the heart and soul of the team. McCutchen, Guerra and P.J. Sandoval made up the weekend rotation, and Brownell and Will Savage were keys in the bullpen.

"That is what we are really excited about, and I know that sounds kind of strange," said Golloway. "We really are, because we know what we have returning and what we have recruited and where they were drafted. Chad Lee (LHP from Barton County CC) was a terrific sign and he ended up signing a professional contract (Oakland). He will move on to the pro ranks, but any time you get your recruits drafted in the fourth to the sixth round, you probably are going to lose those guys. We understand that and wish him the best."

"We are excited about those guys we have signed in the middle of our infield." Golloway continued. "Vinny Biancamano (from Chandler CC in Arizona) is planning on still coming and was taken late in the draft. Aaron Baker (Denton, Texas) is a power bat from the left side and can play first, DH and help us behind the plate.

When you think about the guys coming back, we think about Jackson Williams catching, Reza up the middle defensively and you have Joseph Hughes in centerfield. We also have (Brandon) Moss coming back with a terrific batting average. He is probably going to play some first base and catch. We are going to be able to build from the middle out, and that is what we are excited about. Our experience is coming back in the middle of the diamond, and then we have some terrific recruits coming in that are really going to be able to help to fill the rest of that out."

"Joe Dunigan (junior lefthanded hitter) is going to be special next year. There is no doubt about that," Golloway continued. "He has made so much improvement this year that he is just going to be a bat to be reckoned with in the middle of our line-up. We are still very excited about next year and about the recruits that are coming in. We have five shortstops that we have signed and we are going to let them workout and try to win those positions. One of them is also a closer (Tyson Seng, 6'1, 170 from Enid, OK). So it is an exciting time for us, no question."

A key to the recruiting class will be whether outfielder Devin Shepherd and shortstop Oxnard, Calif. Bryant Hernandez of Oxnard turn down offers from Major League Baseball. Shepherd was taken in the fifth round by the Minnesota Twins.

"Right now we are hearing good things from Devin. He is even telling us he wants to move to Norman and start summer school," said Golloway. "Devin was a fifth rounder and he wanted first or second round money. He is excited about coming to Oklahoma. He is a Joe Dunigan. He is a big, powerful bat with a cannon arm. Those guys are going to have a presence in the outfield, and they are going to be some big, strong, talented guys.

"Another player we are very excited about is Tyson Seng, who is a middle infielder/closer. They have him getting down the line in about 3.7 second, and that is ridiculous. He is also a Huston Street type of guy, as he works extremely fast. Once he starts his first motion on the mound the ball is on you, so needless to say I am very excited about Tyson. He is a great young man from a great family. His dad coaches golf and works in the public school system in Enid. We are excited about getting him. He is going to be a great Sooner and he is going to leave a long legacy here. I really believe that."

"Bryant Hernandez is a slick fielding infielder who can play third, short or second. Then we have a little guy named Michael Gosse (New Mexico JC) who can really field it. We are going to have great competition in the middle infield next year among some outstanding talent, and when the smoke clears we will have a very good infield on the yard next year."

So let's have some fun and size up the competition for next years Sooner team. It is so early and we really don't know who is on the roster, but we will guess.

One of the shortstops will wind up at third base or redshirt freshman Aaron Fowble. Reza, Hernandez, Biancamano, Gosse or Seng will play short, and then who doesn't will compete with Aljay Davis of NEO at second base. Davis is a great athlete with excellent speed. And if he starts, he will probably lead-off for OU next year. OU plans to move Moss to first base to battle Baker and sophomore Jarod Freeman, who does have good power.

In the outfield, junior-to-be Kody Kaiser was taken in the 26th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kaiser is considering signing, but the odds are that he will come back next year. If the does, then he could move back to center where Joseph Hughes also returns, or continue to play left. Of course, a lot depends on whether Shepherd actually shows at OU or not. If he does, he figures to play right field and you could have a line-up of Dunigan in left, Kaiser in center and Shepherd in right. Of course, Hughes could prove to be steadier than Dunigan and again move Kaiser to left.

Who makes up the starting staff will be wide open. It will be hard to keep (RHP) Brad Burns out of the rotation if he is healthy, and Mottern has the stuff to be a big winner. Mottern also closed at times this past season and he has the stuff to do that as well. The question for him is whether he can be consistent in the strike zone. Coach Corral is still very high on lefthanders Nate Hammons, Jimmy Rollins and Kevin Duke and righthanders Nich Conaway and Matt Lovelady.

The Sooners are bringing in some great arms in LHP Tanner Chitwood from Sulphur, OK: RHP Andrew Doyle from Rock Island, Illinois; RHP Garrett Richard from Edmond (Memorial HS), Okla.; LHP Brandon Thompson from Gilbert CC in Chandler, Ariz. Also, RHP Teddy Hubburd from Hooks, Texas has signed in the second signing period and he has a great arm. The Sooners also have a commitment from LHP Reid Patterson from Grayson CC. and RHP Danny Grande (RHP) from Corpus Christi CC.

You never know how freshman are going to do on the D-1 level, but all are good prospects. You figure that Thompson (8-1, 2.20) and Patterson might have the best shot to join the rotation. Outside of Mottern and Burns, look for Hammons and Conaway to make a move to join the rotation.

The Sooner coaches hope that Seng can be the closer, but if that doesn't materialize then any number of arms will be tried.

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