Golloway says pitching is the key

OU baseball coach Sunny Golloway talks about his Sooners' NCAA chances and this week's Big 12 Touranment in Oklahoma City. The 7th-seeded Sooners (32-23) will open tournament play at 5 p.m. tonight against 2nd-seeded Missouri (39-14).

The word among the coaches at the Big 12 Tournament media day on Tuesday was that seven teams were going to get into the NCAA Tournament, and that included Oklahoma. However, OU Head Coach Sunny Golloway certainly wasn't giving the impression that the Sooners were in the Big Dance at this point.

The Sooners open their Big 12 Tournament run tonight against Missouri at 5 p.m. at the Bricktown Ballpark, and on Tuesday Golloway found some time among all the hoopla to sit down and talk to OUInsider.com.

JH: How well are the Sooners playing coming into the Big 12 Tournament?

SG: "I think our guys are fighting real hard right now. As far as how well we are playing, we have still been up and down. We are looking for a little bit of consistency. We have for quite some time now. I think we are a lot closer to getting it right the way that we fought again winning two-of-three (against Texas Tech). Then, last weekend, going up to Missouri, who isthe hottest team in the Big 12 right now, and for us to win one up there and really to have a chance to win a second game on Sunday showed that our guys have been fighting hard. I am proud of our effort right now coming into the Big 12 Tournament."

JH: At one point you were one of the hottest teams in baseball when you won 18 out of 20 games? Was it injuries that set you back or what?

SG: "I think it was a number of things. I think it was a couple of injuries in there that didn't allow us to sustain what we were doing in the line-up. It was nothing really key, but sometimes it doesn't take much to just throw you off a little bit. I think we just got to a point where we haven't been as consistent as we need to be on the mound. After our first two weekends in the Big 12, we played Texas A&M at home and won two-of-three. Then we went to Austin and won one-of-three, but played really well in all three games. Then we go to Baylor and I can still remember giving up three-run home run to their freshman shortstop Campbell. Since that point, it just seems that our pitching has not been as consistent as it needs to be at times. So, we are looking to get that back and I think it has to do with confidence. When you are confident on the mound you think you can get people out, then you do get people out.

"We have lost some tight ballgames and for one reason or another we have not been able to finish games off. We have the lead against Oklahoma State 7-3 in one game and have the lead 7-5 in another, and we don't finish it. Now, you have to give your opponents credit. They go to the plate and they hit you and they score runs. That has been the difference in this year to last year. If we were able to finish like we did last year, we would be sitting right there at third or fourth in the league and I would be looking at another host this year.

"Our RPI is as high as 25 currently with the record that we have. I like the way we are giving great effort in a great way and that we continue to believe in our dreams and our goals. They are still ahead of us. We can still win a Big 12 Championship in five days winning four games, and then move on to postseason."

JH: Last week you hoped to get hot with a big weekend against Texas Tech and then use that momentum to springboard into the Big 12 Tournament. You won two-out-three against Tech, but get run-ruled in game three. Did that weekend go as you had hoped it would and give you what you needed going into the Big 12?

SG: "I think so, because I think we played well this weekend. It doesn't look like it on Sunday with the game that got out of hand against us. It was one of those situations where we already knew we were in the Big 12 Tournament and we couldn't take a chance on a couple of arms that we needed to save to make sure they were going to be healthy going into the Big 12 Tournament. I also think that there has been a lot of pressure on this club to get into the Big 12 Tournament because we haven't been consistent, and it was like a breath of fresh air when we learned we were in.

"Maybe, at that point, they had a little letdown. These guys are still amateurs and you have to remember that. They are young men and they play off of emotion so much. But I think they are really excited about this fresh start in post season."

JH: What does this team need to do to ensure that it is going to the NCAA Tournament?

SG: "We need to pitch well on the mound. We need to pitch well on the mound and make hitters earn it. Don't give them anything with base-on-balls. There is no secret that we have led the Big 12 in base-on-balls. We can't give away free passes. Teams do struggle hitting against us because we have arm strength and we have some deception with the pitches that we throw, but we have walked too many. I think if we will eliminate the walks and really make people earn things against us, it is really going to give us a fighting chance this weekend.

"There is a committee that is getting together right now, as we speak basically on their way to Indianapolis, who will make those decisions and those guys are smart baseball guys. They know what they are doing and I trust in their decision-making process. We have been told by several different people, and I don't want to tell you exactly which coaches, but veteran coaches who have been around a long time, and they think we are already in. I have made it clear that I won't lobby for it. I believe you either play your way in or you don't. When you leave it in the hands of the committee, then it is their decision where your next stop is.

"We understand to really be able to contend that we have to play well. If you can't play at a championship caliber, why would you want to advance? So for us it is really simple. If we are playing well we know that we are going to advance, and if we are playing well it gives us a chance to compete for an NCAA Championship. If we are not playing well, then our season will end in a short time — if not this week, then next week. But to say we have to win one, two or three games again, we have people who have told us that they think we are already in.

"I have told our club that it is real clear. If you look at the different people projecting the NCAA Regionals they have us at different sites. One has us at Arizona State and the other at Long Beach. Those aren't the guys making the official call, so our guys just need to go out and take care of business. Let's be playing well enough to give ourselves an opportunity to win a championship ,and to do that we need to go out and win ballgames this weekend."

JH: What is the health of your pitching staff going into the Big 12 Tournament?

SG: "Pretty good. We don't think we will have Nich Conaway on Wednesday, but he is feeling really good. I think he would want to pitch on Wednesday, but we will hold him back because not throwing Wednesday will allow two extra days of rest because we have a bye on Thursday. He is going to be much more effective with rest. We are looking at being able to utilize him on Friday or Saturday.

"I think the biggest key is our strategy in how we use our arms. We have one shot with Conaway and we need to use that at the right time, and know the time that we can go with him and how long we can go with him. We can't ask him to throw more than one game this weekend, so it is going to take our starting pitching stepping up. There will be one or two names if we get through this tournament in good fashion that we will talk about what a great job that they did. We did that last year in the regional. We had two arms step up that hadn't pitched well to that point and really got us through it. We are hoping to have another shot in the arm from those guys."

JH: Will Ryan Mottern still be one of your starters?

SG: "He possibly could be because we are going to need more four starters in this thing. If we don't use him as a starter, he has to be a factor out of the bullpen. Ryan Mottern needs to throw well for us to have success."

JH: Normally, Stephen Porlier would be your starter to open a series or tournament, but Heath Taylor beat Missouri in Columbia earlier this year. Could change some things around and go with Taylor against the Tigers because of the matchup?

SG: "Well we have looked back and studied the match-ups. We have looked back and seen who Heath Taylor has thrown well against, who did Porlier throw well against, who 'Joe Joe' Hughes has thrown well against and try to match up. Everybody knows that Heath Taylor shutout Missouri just a week ago in Columbia. Other than that, they played very, very well.

"We also like how Heath possibly matches-up with Oklahoma State and some other people. 'Joe Joe' Hughes has thrown well and we are thinking either Heath Taylor or Joe Joe on Wednesday, who are both lefthanders. Then we'll look to Porlier either Friday or Saturday and throw the other guy in that opposite game."

JH: What are your thoughts on how well Joe Dunigan is playing at this point in the season?

SG: "Joe just made honorable mention All Big 12 and that is so very disappointing. He didn't make first or second team and that is a tremendous disappointment to me. If you look at his Big 12 numbers, he hit in the high 300's in this conference, has seven home runs and is one of the leaders in this conference and a mainstay for us. If we don't have big Joe Dunigan, we are probably not playing in this tournament based on the single solo home run in game two against Tech.

"He has meant the world to us and I am truly disappointed that he is not first or second team, but I also think that is going to be something that Joe is going to wear on his sleeve a little bit. He is probably going to have a terrific performance this weekend. The same goes for Aaron Reza, who is a guy who is not honored for what he has done. I am not saying they were slighted, because there are other terrific players in this conference, but those guys might play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder this weekend."

JH: You made a very gutsy coaching move when you moved Reza to third and put a freshman, Bryant Hernandez, at short. Talk about the reason for the move and why it has worked for you? Is your team a better defensive team now?

SG: "Well, there is no doubt about it. They are a better defensive team. It has been a good move because our team believes in it. Really, what has happened is that our guys in the line-up believe in Reza at third base and that has been a problem for us all year. Right now, Reza has been really playing well and so with Hernandez at shortstop, there is no doubt that it is a better defense for us.

"Is Hernandez better than Reza? Probably not? What Reza has really done at third base is really solidified that infield to where we are very comfortable. Plus, Reza is so close to him that he can talk to Hernandez during the game and make sure he is in the right place at the right time in making the right pick calls. We feel very comfortable about the skills they play with together and we feel the move is the best thing for our club."

JH: The Joseph Hughes catch against Texas Tech in Game 1 was one of the best catches I have ever seen. I would put that catch up there with any in college baseball this year, wouldn't you? Then you have Dunigan's home run in Game 2. Those two plays have saved your season thus far, wouldn't you agree?

SG: "I think they really are. That catch would have been great to view in any case, but the fact that it actually won that ballgame makes it more important. If 'Joe Joe' doesn't make that catch they have a guy at first and he is already around the horn trying to score, and that is why we were able to double him up. You know that the guy who hit it is doing to end up on second or third and needless to say it ends up being a very tight ball game (7-6).

"Then, Dunigan with the walk-off home run made for a awful lot of excitement for us. We have those kinds of players and it takes character and talent to be able to do those kinds of things in key ballgames. And those two guys have that kind of character."

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