(Note: This article is
part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball
programs going into the 2011 season. To
view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
Once an Oklahoma Sooner, always an Oklahoma Sooner.
It’s a concept anyone who has ever been associated with the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., embraces and holds dear to their heart. It’s one that Sooners head baseball coach Sunny Golloway wraps his arms around perhaps more than anyone.
And it’s a belief system Golloway eagerly introduces to potential recruits who are considering joining the OU family.
“We really emphasize people more than anything,” Golloway said recently. “People get so excited about working here and being here, I think our recruits truly figure out real quick there must be something to this.
“And we sell the ‘Sooner for life.’ We tell them that this is a commitment to come here to play baseball … and you will get involved and you’ll care about (the Sooners). When you’re 35 you’ll be going to bowl games … and it’s going to be a special thing.”
Or, when that former player is 35, it’s likely he will be going to Omaha, Neb., to watch one of Golloway’s OU teams play at the College World Series. Just like last June.
The 2010 Sooners rolled into the NCAA Regionals, moved on to the Super Regionals for the second time in the program’s history where they beat No. 1-ranked Virginia in three games at Charlottesville, Va., then advanced to the College World Series for the first time since 1995. Oklahoma finished with a 50-18 record after going 1-2 at the CWS.
It was a triumphant return to the near-top of the college baseball ladder for the Sooners, and it came in Golloway’s fifth full season as head coach. An assistant at OU early in his career, he left in the mid-1990s to serve for eight years for as head coach at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., only to return to Norman as an associate head coach in 2004.
“It was really special, especially I think for me,” Golloway said of the 2010 season. “I was here (in the 1990s) and we had gone to Omaha three out of four years. You finally get there in that fifth year (as head coach) and you look up and it’s been 15 years since Oklahoma had been to Omaha. It didn’t seem like it had been that long because of the journey I took … (but) it was really special.”
It was also special for Golloway in another respect. He wanted his 10-year-old son, Callen, to experience the sights and sounds of Omaha in the last year the CWS was played at historic Rosenblatt Stadium.
“He had never been to Rosenblatt. He wasn’t born when we went before,” Golloway said. “I wanted him to experience Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium and he got to do that.”
Oklahoma has won 220 games with Golloway as the head coach (he was credited with 12 wins while he was the interim head coach for 18 games in 2005) and has been to five NCAA Regional finals and two Super Regionals. The 2010 run to the CWS was made all the more remarkable by the fact the Sooners lost nine players to the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft.
Golloway said it’s his program’s development of young players that sets it apart from many others. He points to recent players – right-hander Garrett Richards and catcher Jackson Williams – who were undrafted out of high school but after three years at OU were first round Draft picks.
“A lot of schools dream of having a first round draft choice, and we’ve been able to produce first round draft choice picks and high round draft choice picks,” Golloway said. “Our players are developing and that’s the No. 1 thing if you look across the country that would separate us. We are developing a large number of high round draft picks.
“It’s about retaining the kids you recruit, it’s about sticking with them and it’s about helping them achieve their degree, and we’ve been able to do that,” he continued. “So we’re proud of the development of our players both in the classroom and on the field.”
Golloway was an assistant coach at OU from 1992-95 when the Sooners made three trips to Omaha and won the 1994 national championship.
He left OU in 1996 to become head coach at Oral Roberts. In his eight years at ORU, Golloway compiled a 335-156 record (.682), and the Golden Eagles won six straight Mid-Continent Conference regular season and tournament championships and advanced to six straight NCAA Regionals.
He returned to Norman as an assistant coach for Larry Cochell in 2004, a move many observers felt was a step down on the coaching ladder. Golloway was simply following his heart. It’s that “Sooner for life” thing.
“A lot of the people throughout the country thought I was crazy giving up a head job and that it was a backwards move.” he said. “But I did it for the right reasons. I prayed about it and it’s worked out in the long run. Now I’m the head coach at Oklahoma and we’re able to recruit and do things that I feel this program has always been capable of doing.”
Golloway took over as interim head coach at OU late in the 2005 season when Cochell abruptly resigned. He was named OU’s eighth head baseball coach in July, 2005.
In Golloway’s first full season as OU’s head coach in 2006, the Sooners finished with an overall mark of 45-22, placed third in the Big 12 Conference and won an NCAA Regional championship. That sent the Sooners to their first Super Regional where they lost a best-of-three series to top-ranked Rice.
There was a bit of blip in 2007 and ’08 when Oklahoma finished 34-24 and 36-26-1, but the ’08 season did end in an NCAA Regional final.
The climb back to the top was nearly complete in 2009 when the Sooners finished 43-20 and went to their fourth regional final in five years under Galloway. The magical 2010 season followed, complete with the Sooners’ first trip up I-35 and I-29 to Omaha since 1995.
“It wasn’t really a surprise,” Golloway said of the CWS berth. “We knew that we had been priming the pump and it was a matter of time before the water was going to flow. It’s coach-speak, but you just keep chopping wood, and that’s what you do. We were able to do that, and eventually it ended up paying off big-time for us.”
Considering who the Sooners have returning from last spring’s CWS team, there will be enough optimism in Norman to fill the Boomer Schooner 100 times over. Eight of the Sooners’ nine position players and seven of their top nine hitters from 2010 will wear the Crimson and Cream again in 2011.
The top returnee is junior third baseman Garrett Buechele, who batted a team-high .359 with team-highs of 17 home runs, 65 RBIs and 55 runs scored. He was selected in the 18thround by the Texas Rangers in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft but chose to stay in Norman.
Buechele was named an All-American just one year after being named the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year.
Also back are junior shortstop Caleb Bushyhead (.327, 6 HRs, 40 RBIs), junior outfielder Chris Ellison (.326, 55 runs, 24 SBs), junior infielder Cameron Seitzer (.305, 16 HRs 53 RBIs) and sophomore infielder/outfielder Max White (.293, 15 HRs, 43 RBIs). White was also an All-American in ’09.
Three of the Sooners’ top starting pitchers are back in senior right-hander Bobby Shore (10-5, 4.12 ERA), senior right-hander Michael Rocha (8-2, 3.53) and sophomore left-hander Ryan Gibson (5-2, 3.76). Right-handed senior closer Ryan Duke (3-2, 3.75 ERA, 12 saves) and senior left-hander Anthony Collazo (1-0, 3.92, 24 appearances) will bolster the bullpen.
Most of those players participated in Perfect Game events while in high school.
“You have to work at it. Just because you’re an elite program doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen,” Golloway said. “Kids are attracted to Oklahoma, but you’ve got to go out, you’ve got to do the work and you’ve got to sell what Oklahoma has to offer. This is a special place and there are special things that can be done.”
If the Sooners do return to Omaha in 2011, it’s likely they’ll have one pretty famous fan in the stands – or perhaps even in the dugout – OU head football coach Bob Stoops. Golloway recalled how just last month the Sooners’ football team won the Bedlam Series game against arch-rival Oklahoma State and he was standing on the Oklahoma sideline at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
“I was right there pulling for Coach Stoops and I’m high-fiving Jeremy Beal, our defensive player of the year,” Golloway said. “When you see us in Omaha, Bob Stoops is going to be right there cheering on the baseball program, and that’s what he did last (season).
“The fact that all the coaches work together and support each other and we really have a tight-knit family within our athletic department, I think that’s rare.”
Once an Oklahoma Sooner, always an Oklahoma Sooner.
What follows is a list of players on Oklahoma’s 2011 roster who participated in Perfect Game events while in high school. Click on the player’s name to view his Perfect Game profile:
Elliott Blair – PG WWBA
Garrett Buechele – PG WWBA
Caleb Bushyhead – PG WWBA
Anthony Collazo – PG WWBA
Cale Coshow – PG WWBA
Christopher Ellison –PG National Showcase/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Drew Harrison – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA
Kindle Ladd – PG WWBA
Luke Lawyer – PG WWBA
Evan Mistich – PG WWBA
Tyler Ogle – PG National Showcase/PG National Underclass
Cody Reine – PG WWBA
Cameron Seitzer – PG WWBA
Cayle Shambaugh – PG WWBA
Bobby Shore – PG WWBA/PG showcases
Jake Smith – PG WWBA
Tanner Toal – PG WWBA
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