Sooners ride momentum into fall practices

DH Jackson Nicklaus walks to the plate as INF/RHP Cade Horton grounds out to Baylor Bears third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo during a game last season. Horton was drafted 7th overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2022 MLB Draft due to his emergence as a key contributor to the Sooners’ weekend pitching rotation. Photo by Zack Wright

Norman, Okla. – Nearly three months removed from a championship appearance, the Oklahoma Sooners baseball team is looking to build off last season’s momentum as fall practices begin.

Led by head coach Skip Johnson, the Sooners boasted a 45-17 record on their way to securing a Big 12 tournament championship and their first appearance in the College World Series finals since 1994. For a team picked to be the sixth-best in the conference preseason rankings , the Sooners surprised many teams with their deep run in the playoffs.

However, Johnson expected this type of performance from his squad.

 “I don’t think it was a run. We were good the COVID year too,” he said. “The expectation is to go to the National Championship.”

Although the Sooners did not take home the title, young players such as sophomore infielder Wallace Clark left Omaha with an invaluable experience.

“Omaha was a great experience that helped me grow as a player,” Clark said. “I know that all of the returners would agree that the experience we gained last year will help us this year because we know exactly what it takes to win it all.”

Returning experience may prove to be a vital part of a trip back to the World Series for the Sooners. However, after losing eleven players to the 2022 MLB Draft, the team may have to look to some of its younger players to step up and contribute early this upcoming season.

Johnson claimed the best way for the influx of new arrivals to contribute on the field right away is to “be really good at what they do.” 

“They have to understand the framework of what we are trying to teach,” he said. “Whether it’s playing good catch, understanding the signs, being good with two strikes, understanding the approach, [or] understanding who they are as people.” 

Johnson said the quicker younger players on his team can establish their identity as baseball players, the better chance they have of seeing the field early in their careers, especially offensively. 

However, the pitching staff is also a spot of emphasis for the Sooners. After losing their weekend rotation to the draft, the team has their work cut out for them this offseason. 

“We’re just trying to get enough innings in for the pitchers to get some work and figure out who’s going to step up and be that guy,” Johnson said. 

Some may wonder who “that guy” is going to be for the Sooners this season. Although this answer isn’t clear, Johnson emphasized that fall practices had only begun and there was much more work to be done.

“Every day we’re trying to build a different guy to be a leader and understand their roles on the team,” Johnson said. “To be a leader you have to understand your role on the team first and have clarity in that role. I think that’s the biggest thing we’re doing is continuing every day to evolve into something different.” 

The Sooners will scrimmage against each other in a fall intrasquad World Series later this month. Johnson claims this event is a great opportunity for the fans to “get to see the kids, put names to faces and just be supportive of what they try to do.” With scrimmages scheduled for Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and Nov. 4, Johnson encouraged fans to come out and show their support for the team.