2014 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Tournament Preview

by BoCarter | Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

big_12By Bo Carter

OKLAHOMA CITY – No matter what people may be saying about the pitching-rich, batting-hmmmm Big 12 Conference in baseball this season, the 18th annual Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Tournament at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark Wednesday-Sunday promises to be another intriguing week of contests.
It’s a historic and nostalgic trip for the eight competing teams to the Chickasaw facility (which evokes Native Americans engaging in baseball-like games for years before Abner Doubleday or the British devised the modern diamond game), and it will mark the final season of OKC hosting either the Big Eight or 12 tournaments almost annually since 1976. Now-demolished All Sports Stadium hosted the Big Eight (1976-96) and first Phillips 66 Big 12 postseason joust in 1997, and the conference is moving the 2015 event to Tulsa’s virtually new ONEOK Field.
All is not lost for the capital city fan base and area Big 12 fans who travel to Oklahoma City for future title tourneys as the facility is set for future baseball events in the league. Arlington’s Globe Life Ballpark also hosted Phillips 66 Big 12 meets in 2002 and 2004 before some record-breaking turnouts, but attendance has dropped at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in recent years because of loss of fan base to the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder (currently in conference playoff finals against San Antonio), weather events in the Sooner State and a number of extenuating factors.
Getting back to the baseball business at hand, though, there are ample opportunities for teams on the NCAA bubble to breathe a sigh of relief Sunday with the circuit’s automatic berth in the NCAA Championship accorded to the winning crew.
And that’s where the speculation begins.
Coach Josh Holliday’s Oklahoma State Cowboys won their first-ever Big 12 regular-season crown last week at 18-6 in loop play and 41-14 entering the title bouts as the No. 1 seed. Holliday with baseball lineage as the son of former OSU head coach Tom Holliday (now assistant head coach at NC State) and brother of St. Louis Cardinals All-Star OF Matt Holliday has brought long-lost OSU faithful back to the fold. In fact, a faithful few never left as Holliday was a freshman on the final Cowboys’ team, which captured NCAA-record 16th consecutive Big Eight crown in 1996 to close a 1981-96 dynasty under retired head coach Gary Ward.
Josh Holliday can turn to hard-hitting Gage Green (.330-3 HR-28 RBI) for consistency at the plate while middle inning relief specialist Vince Wheeland (8-0, 1.32 earned run average, second in the Big 12 overall) heads a seasoned mound staff.
No. 2 seed TCU like O-State probably has a NCAA berth (auto or at-large) sealed with a Big 12-record 14 shutouts in ’14. Coach Jim Schlossnagle’s bunch came within one league win of capturing the Horned Frogs’ first team title as a member of the Big 12 since 2012 and would like nothing better than to come away from this week’s competition at 4-0 and with a bid in hand.
The 38-15 overall and 17-7 Big 12 mark Frogs again look to two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Preston Morrison (8-3, Big 12-best ERA of 1.18) and the aptly-named Boomer (not of the OU Sooners) White at .343-2 HR-40 RBI to take them toward that coveted conference title goal.
Third-seeded Kansas and coach Ritch Price are no strangers to the Big 12 tourney crown with a championship in 2006 and might need 2-3 wins this week to get off the NCAA bubble with a pre-tourney NCAA Rating Percentage Index of No. 36. The hard-charging Jayhawks are 34-22 overall and 15-9 in Big 12 activity to finish a game ahead in the standings of No. 11 RPI and fourth-seeded Texas Tech (40-16, 14-10 in Big 12), another team with a solid shot at its first NCAA bid since 2004 and coming off its best season in 10 years.
KU relies on slugging Michael Suiter (.333-3 HR-39 RBI) on offense and has a pitching staff with solid balance, a 3.40 ERA and 311 strikeouts in 497 innings of work in ’14.
Aforementioned Tech has prospered under second-year head coach Tim Tadlock with a 14-game improvement in the regular-season win column. The Red Raiders have the ’14 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in DH Adam Kirsch with .302-9 HR-45 RBI and another member of the standout reliever crop in Johnny Drozd (6-0, 1.96 ERA in 21 appearances).
No. 5 seed Texas makes a return to the tourney after a two-year absence and the 36-16 Longhorns (13-11 Big 12) have captured four previous Big 12 postseason titles. Hall of Fame head coach Augie Garrido gets ample mileage from All-Big 12 hurlers Nathan Thornhill (6-2, 1.62 ERA, third individually in the Big 12) and Dillon Peters (6-3, 2.27 ERA).
West Virginia played better than its 27-24 overall and 9-14 Big 12 marks indicated as the No. 6 seed. Coach Randy Mazey’s group had to play most of its games at neutral sites and fought a savage winter and spring while waiting the Mountaineers’ new stadium in 2015. In the interim, pitcher Harrison Musgrave (5-3, 2.82 ERA) kept WVU in contention most of the season while Bobby Boyd (.360-1 HR-23 RBI) tops the conference in batting average prior to his Oklahoma City stint.
Young Baylor (24-29, 8-15 Big 12) lost heavily to graduation and pro signings in the seventh-seeded spot and has been tourney tough for many years under 20-season head coach Steve Smith. BU and No. 8 seed and defending champ Oklahoma are the only two schools to qualify for every (18) Phillips 66 Big 12 tourney to date and could play key spoilers’ roles. BU’s primary weapons are some better-than-average speed on the basepaths, the ability to move runners with sacrifices, and relief ace Josh Michalec with a Big 12-high 20 saves to date (he has saved all but four of the Bears’ 24 total wins).
OU has been plagued by some injuries and inconsistency at 28-27 overall and 8-16 in the Big 12 this season). Leading hitter Mac James has done his part with a .339 average-5 HR-39 RBI. From the pitching staff hit hard by graduation, Jon Perrin leads the team (and is fourth in the Big 12) with 72 strikeouts in 18 appearances,
Just for grins, the other national RPI numbers (often important in the final selection process for the NCAA baseball field of 64) along with Tech and Kansas are OSU at No. 21, TCU at 14, Texas at 15, WVU at 31, Baylor at 84, and Oklahoma at No. 83. Obviously, the 24-game intra-circuit slate played heavily into the numbers, which are the best compositely among DI conferences.
Figure in that final element that no school has repeated as Big 12 titlist since no-SEC-belonging Texas A&M in 2010 and ’11 and that seventh different members have grabbed the crown since 2004, and it should add up to some interesting viewing again.
Opening Round Games Wednesday (tentative times, minimum of 40 minutes between games):
Kansas vs. West Virginia, 9 a.m., (FCS telecast); TCU vs. Baylor, 12:30 p.m. (FCS); Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma, 4 p.m. (FCS); Texas Tech vs. Texas, 7:30 p.m. (FCS). Thursday four games starting at 9 a.m., Friday two games at 3:15 and 7 p.m., Saturday (depending on elimination contests) 2-4 games starting at 9 a.m.; Championship – Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (Fox Sports, check local listings).
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