Fueled by excitement and looking to answer some questions about itself, the Oklahoma Christian University baseball team broke out the bats and opened 2020 season play against Texas A&M University-Kingsville in a three series stand Friday, Jan. 31, to Sunday, Feb. 2.
“I think everyone is excited to get going,” Head Coach Lonny Cobble said. “We still have a lot of question marks going into the season. We’re still really young position-wise. Pitching-wise, we have a lot of experience back, so we’re hoping pitching can keep us in games early and give us a chance to score some runs, kind of get the nerves out with some of the young guys. We will start four or five sophomores this year with a couple of freshmen sprinkled in.”
The team returns eight seniors this season, but most of the returning starters for the Eagles will be sophomores.
For the first time, Oklahoma Christian will competein the Lone Star Conference. Because of scheduling, the Eagles do not have any non-conference games to test out the squad. Conference play kicked off early with Texas A&M-Kingsville. In early season polls, the Eagles ranked eighth in the Lone Star and 10th in the South Central Region.
Despite these early season rankings, senior first baseman Abe Spencer said the team believes they can compete with anyone in the conference if they can limit mistakes.
“We are all very excited to join this new conference and to get to play some of the top competition in the country,” Spencer said. “I don’t think anyone is nervous about it. We are all very excited because we know when we get hot, we can play with anyone. Most of the time our biggest competitor is ourselves. When we have rough games, it’s usually from self-inflicted wounds.”
Last year, the Eagles proved they could compete. They came into 2019 hot with a 5-0 start on the season. After leveling out in play, they narrowly missed the postseason tournament, finishing the season 28-20.
The Eagles used last year’s heartbreaking finish as motivation to perform better and fight smarter this season, Spencer said.
“There is definitely a chip on our shoulder after having such a good season and being one of the best teams in the conference last year to barely missing out towards the end,” Spencer said. “I know I can speak for my teammates and the coaches when I say that everyone is hungry for success.”
Cobble said the young guys from last year learned the hard lesson last year of the necessity of properly managing energy over the course of the season, instead of expending it all at the beginning.
“Baseball is a game where you want to play with good energy, but you have to know how to play on kind of an even keel,” Cobble said, holding up a string. “I always use this analogy: your season is this long. If you play on peaks and valleys, we started stringing the string up and down—it’s not going to make it the end. That’s what happened last year. They rode the highs; they rode the lows. They just wore themselves out. That’s really the only thing they did wrong last year, so we are hoping they learned from that.”
Although the team is young and in a tough conference, Spencer said he believes the team boasts a tight bond of brotherhood which will set them apart and lead them to success in 2020.
“Our biggest strength, I think, is the selflessness of the team and the chemistry we have,” Spencer said. “I feel like we are unique in that way, and nobody is going to play selfishly. This quality in most cases translates into wins.”
In terms of strengths, Cobble said the maturity and experience appears to be strong for the Eagles on the pitcher’s mound, which will help set the tone for the team. Additionally, Cobble said the ideal of family preached throughout the team will help mold the strengths of the team and fill the weaker spots.
“The biggest deal they are preaching to themselves is family, which is to make sure we stick together,” Cobble said. “If things get bad, they want to make sure they’ve got each other’s back and everyone feels a part of the team. Team chemistry in baseball is huge, and they don’t get jealous, which is huge. This could be a really good year for us.”
To maintain a high team chemistry by preaching family and brotherhood, the seniors must set the precedent for the team, Cobble said. As a senior, Spencer said that is the exact lesson he wants to teach the younger guys and the legacy he desires to leave.
“The one thing I would love to leave for this team is the example of what hard work looks like, what a teammate looks like and what a brother on the field and off the field looks like,” Spencer said. “Hopefully they can pass it down from year to year.”
One word Cobble repeated when talking about this season was fun.
The Eagles lost their first three games against Texas A&M-Kingsville, but the fun continues next week, Sunday, Feb. 9, and Monday, Feb. 10, as the Eagles host Angelo State University in their home opener at Dobson Field.