OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 3, 2013) – Use any cliché you want – a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance for redemption. All of them apply to Oklahoma Christian’s baseball team as it begins the 2013 season.
There is no sugar-coating it: 2012 was a rough campaign for OC. The Eagles struggled through an 8-34 season that included a 25-game losing streak and all the associated angst that goes with such a situation.
As the Eagles prepare to open the season Monday at Schreiner (Texas), they have a new coach in Lonny Cobble, more than 20 new players and a whole new attitude as they begin play for the first time in the Heartland Conference. Most importantly, they have confidence and enthusiasm, Cobble said.
“We have the pieces in place from last year’s team and surrounded them with guys we brought in,” Cobble said. “The thing I found the most surprising is how the chemistry of the team has all just meshed together. I’ve been really pleased. These guys hang out together and they seem like they’ve been friends forever. I think that’s kind of a cool thing.
“It’s a new season. We’re in a new conference. There are a lot of new beginnings. That’s what we’ve tried to tell them. We’ve done a lot of the mental preparation. … We’ve put last year behind. None of that means anything. We can’t dwell on those kind of things. This is a new team and hopefully we’ll have new results.”
From scratch, Cobble built one of the state’s premier prep programs at Edmond Santa Fe High School during the past 19 seasons. The Wolves were perennial Class 6A contenders, playing sound, fundamental baseball. A good number of the newcomers on OC’s squad played for Cobble at Santa Fe.
OC’s pitching staff is a microcosm of this year’s team – many newcomers filling key roles, but a handful of holdovers doing their part, too.
The initial starting rotation will feature a pair of NCAA Division I transfers, Tyler Sturgis (Kansas State) and Cale Coshow (Oklahoma); sophomore Luke Sandoval, whose gutty complete-game effort against Central Oklahoma last season snapped the 25-game losing streak; and either Tyler Schuman or the staff’s only left-hander, returnee Kelby Reneau.
Sturgis last pitched collegiately in 2011, when he posted a 3.38 ERA for Kansas State with 12 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. Coshow went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA for OU last season, recording wins over perennial power Oral Roberts and Air Force. Sandoval led OC in pitching wins, going 3-6 with a 5.27 ERA and two complete games.
Ryan Nash, a starter last season, will be converted into a long reliever, a role in which Cobble thinks Nash can excel. A pair of transfers, Kacy Cook and Daniel Sawyer, will be in middle relief roles, along with submariner Jacob Stephenson, Zach Loomis, Jesse Stephens, Brock Werdel and Blayne Berglund. Another transfer from Oklahoma, hard-throwing senior Chris Burgess, will be the closer.
“He brings that Division I swagger,” Cobble said of Burgess.
Behind the plate, left-handed-hitting transfer Caden Cleveland has earned the starting nod, with Chandler Allen, Wes Dorough (a part-time starter in 2012) and Caleb Teel all capable of earning playing time.
At first base, junior transfers Blake Stringer and Garrett Guys have been locked in a tight battle. Stringer has the edge heading into the season and likely will be the Eagles’ cleanup batter, while Guys could be OC’s designated hitter if he’s not at first.
Cobble likes his mix of middle infielders and will be comfortable with any combination of his top four. Junior transfer Cory Eastwood rates a slight nod over returnee Evan Draper at second base, and another newcomer, Cody Rosecrans, will start at shortstop, with returnee Garrett Stephenson as the primary backup.
“I think I could interchange those guys and never lose a beat,” Cobble said.
Cobble also has two good options at third base. Sean Murphy is the better fielder while Jerry Owen, who hit .302 while leading the Eagles in RBIs (25) and home runs (five) last season, is the better hitter. For now, Murphy will start and Owen likely will play designated hitter when he’s not in the field.
Five outfielders will vie for three starting spots – returnees Dillon Andrews, Caleb Price and Heath Steele and newcomers Jordan Lopez and Markus Carr. At the season’s start, Price (who hit .308 last season) and Andrews (who hit .313) will join Lopez in the lineup, although Carr and Steele will see considerable playing time. Steele could be an ace pinch-hitter as well.
In the Heartland Conference, OC is joining a strong baseball league. Division II Baseball News has St. Mary’s (Texas) ranked No. 1 nationally and St. Edward’s (Texas) ranked 25th. The Eagles will play at St. Mary’s on Tuesday and St. Edward’s on Wednesday, providing them with an early measuring stick.
OC’s home opener will be Feb. 13 against another Heartland rival, Oklahoma Panhandle State. The Eagles also have a pair of games in April at Division I Texas-Arlington, a squad coached by former OC standout Darin Thomas.
“This is college baseball,” Cobble said. “Everybody is good. There’s really not anybody on the schedule that you can count as an automatic victory. Everybody can play or they wouldn’t be playing college baseball. The minute we don’t respect our opponents is when you get beat. There are no easy teams on the schedule. You’d better be hooked up every day and ready to go.”