OU baseball: 4 things to watch as Sooners open 2021 season

Joe Buettner, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·4 min read

Feb. 20—Oklahoma baseball will open its season in Norman after all.

The Sooners were scheduled to host Southern this weekend before inclement weather in the area nixed the series. OU then planned a neutral-site tilt with Wichita State in Round Rock, Texas, before weather forced the program to cancel again. OU then put together last-minute arrangements to face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before weather got in the way a third time.

Finally, OU is set to start its 2021 season at L. Dale Mitchell Park, where the Sooners will welcome Omaha for a two-game series. The programs are scheduled to face each other at 2:30 p.m. today and noon Monday. Spectators will not be permitted, however, due to ice still covering the seating bowl and walkways.

Here are four things to watch from the program as it gets its season off the ground:

1. Insta-Graham: OU redshirt freshman Peyton Graham made an immediate impact for OU last season, earning Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Freshman All-America honors and enters his second year in Norman as a preseason USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award candidate.

The Waxahachie, Texas, native posted a .358 batting average and .457 on-base percentage to pair with 10 RBIs and three home runs over 18 games, all of which he started. OU coach Skip Johnson doesn't want to place too high of expectations on Graham, but it's hard to deny his importance to OU's success.

"There's a lot of things that Peyton Graham can do on a baseball field," Johnson said. "He's got a little bit of raw power, he can really run, he's got a good arm, he can hit. He walked into our club last year, started early and played really good and had a lot of success."

Johnson just wants Graham, who D1Baseball ranks as the third-best third baseman in the country, to take things pitch-by-pitch and play hard. Considering his natural ability, his impact will take care of itself.

2. Looking for depth: As it has been for all sports through the pandemic, Johnson knows COVID-19 will play a major factor for every team.

"You never know, from week to week, hey, you might have four or five guys out this next week," Johnson said. "So, there's going to be a lot of different lineups as we play through it. Everybody's got to be ready to play."

While Johnson feels good about his lineup's depth, the Sooners return just two pitchers who started at least two games last season — Wyatt Olds and Jake Bennett.

OU's bullpen took a significant hit with the departures of Levi Prater, Dane Acker and Cade Cavalli.

The Sooners at least return the top relief pitcher in the country, according to D1Baseball, in Jason Ruffcorn, who registered five saves, 12 strikeouts and allowed just three hits and zero runs in seven appearances that spanned eight innings last season.

3. New in town: Johnson plans to dip into his freshman class as he's done in year's past.

Former Westmoore star and current Sooner outfielder Jace Bohrofen has impressed early in his short time with the program, according to Johnson.

He also mentions freshman pitchers Carson Atwood, Tommy Lamb, Jett Lodes and Carson Thomas as coming along nicely but still learning.

OU will be without former Norman High standout Cade Horton, who will miss the 2021 season due to an arm injury.

"As you go through the season, there's going to be ups and downs, it's just unfortunate it happened to Cade, because Cade's a really good player," Johnson said. "He's the best freshman pitcher I've ever been around. And I've had some really good ones."

4. Off and running: It took longer than expected for the Sooners to open their season. But once they do, the Sooners will have a long week ahead of them with few breaks in between.

Following OU's series with Omaha, the program will head to Arlington, Texas, to face Stephen F. Austin and Texas-Arlington on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, at Globe Life Field.

OU will stay in Texas for three games at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas. OU will face Auburn on Friday, Texas A&M on Saturday and Baylor on Sunday at the Round Rock Classic.

Joe Buettner

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jbuettner@normantranscript.com