Gamecock Anthem: It appears that this Oklahoma team had a rough start to the season, but then has played really well as of late ... what's been the biggest difference that's led to their strong play in the second half of the season?
Joey Helmer: A taste of good luck. As the line always goes, you make your own luck, to a certain extent. But this team has really had some bad luck this year. They've lost 11 run run games, and in most of those they had plenty of chances to come through in big situations but just didn't get a bounce. The ball didn't find the hole, whereas opponents' hits snuck through to win games.
But that has changed as of late, especially in games against Baylor. They've got those types of breaks and been fortunate in certain situations. Their pitching has held serve the entire time and given them chances to win games, regardless of the breaks they did or did not get. Essentially, the ebbs and flows of baseball are finally starting to take place for this team, meaning the baseball gods are rewarding them for all the early season struggles.
GA: If someone had never seen the Sooners play, how would you describe the type of team that will come to Columbia this weekend?
JH: This Sooner team is a very BBCor oriented team and equipped for the new era of college baseball. That is to say, it's loaded on pitching--more on that in a minute--with a few key cogs in the lineup. It's a team that, because of that, will fight and scratch and be in a lot of close ball games. Head coach Sunny Golloway has always trusted his pitching to be in close games, too, because of how he operates offensively.
Small ball is very much a part of the Sooners' game and he expects his club to execute that and then have his pitchers come through in tight games. So, sound, with strong powerful arms, some pop in the lineup and the ability to put the ball on the carpet. These are all things that define this OU team.
GA: Break down the three starters and who are some key pitchers in the pen that USC fans can expect to see this weekend?
JH: The three starters' stats may not seem overwhelming, but by all means, they certainly have the ability to go out and throw complete games every time out.
Game one starter Jordan John, a sixth round draft pick, boasts an 8-7 record with a 2.27 ERA. He's a crafty lefty with a solid fastball and nice offspeed stuff.
Right-hander Jonathan Gray will serve as the game two starter and he has a 3.32 ERA in 17 appearances, owning an 8-4 record.
Back to the southpaw the Sooners will go, if three games are necessary, in Dillon Overton. Overton, who began the season as OU's Friday night ace, is 6-3 in 21 appearances with a 3.16 ERA.
All three can very much keep their team in the game against anyone. Then, comes lefty Steven Okert out of the pen to close it up. He's only got five saves on the year in large part because they've worked him in many different situations, but he's worked a 9-7 record and 2.78 ERA in 29 appearances. He's the best arm in the Sooner arsenal, drafted the highest of anybody in the fourth round.
Kindle Ladd and Jake Fisher are two other guys to keep an eye on out of the OU bullpen. Oh, and then there's 100 mph hurler Damien Magnifico, a midweek starter and another major league prospect who could come out of the bullpen this weekend.
GA: Who are a couple of batters that the USC pitchers will have to avoid getting beat by this weekend?
JH: The first is center fielder Max White. White leads the club with a .339 average, also banging out a team-high 55 RBI. He's not a major home run threat--he only has two on the year--but he comes up timely hits frequently, most of those singles and doubles. In addition to leading the team in average and RBI, White also has the most doubles on the squad at 17. So, he's the first dangerous guy USC pitchers will have to deal with.
Another is designated hitter Matt Oberste, a player who has really emerged late in the season. He's hitting .331 on the year with six homers, most of those in the latter portion of the year. He leads regular lineup players with a .568 slugging percentage.
GA: Oklahoma head coach Sunny Golloway had some interesting comments prior to the brackets being announced when he said he wanted to play South Carolina -- what did you make of those comments?
JH: What I made of those comments is exactly what he told me the other day during a one-on-one interview: The Sooners are confident they can come in and compete with the Gamecocks. His basic message was that no one else has been able to knock them off, so why not give the Sooners another chance? They'll undoubtedly get that chance when they take the field tonight in the first game of this weekend's best-of-three.
But he wasn't taking any kind of shot at USC or head coach Ray Tanner, which he made clear when he made the comments. Golloway just believes in his team, thinks they have a chance to win and perhaps, perhaps, wanted the storyline to be emphasized around the world of college baseball.
Joey Helmer is the Publisher of the Oklahoma Scout site, Sooners Illustrated.