Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

May 21, 2014

Oklahoma freshman lands Big 12 season honors

If the future looks brighter for Oklahoma baseball than its present, then Sheldon Neuse is a major reason. The Big 12 Conference coaches named him the league’s freshman of the year on Tuesday.

“I just went out and tried to ball. That’s all I’ve ever known is to go out and play baseball. Whatever happens at the end happens at the end,” Neuse said. “I’m very honored to win this award in such a great, competitive conference. Moving forward, I hope to get some bigger awards. I want to just keep helping out and see what I can do to put our team on top.”

Neuse is the only OU player to start all 55 games of the regular season. Primarily a third baseman, he has made starts at shortstop as well as eight relief appearances. Neuse is hitting .290 with 40 RBIs. He leads the team in home runs, with seven, to go with 17 doubles and seven triples for a .522 slugging percentage.

“This is the highest level in college baseball and he’s playing third base, which I think is the most difficult position in college baseball defensively for a lot of reasons, hitting third in our lineup and basically he’s our closer right now; he’s a pretty talented kid,” OU coach Pete Hughes said.

Neuse is 1-0 with one save and a 2.70 earned run average. Over 10 innings, he has struck out 10 and held opponents to a .256 batting average. Neuse is the first Sooner to win the award since Garrett Buechele, also a third baseman, won it in 2009.

Four other OU players were named to all-Big 12 teams by the coaches.

Mac James was a first-team selection as the utility player. The junior started games at catcher, first base, third base, left field and designated hitter.

“Any way I can I get at-bats,” said James, who had just nine at-bats last season. “At the beginning of the year, I was just trying to get into the lineup. It paid off.”

He batted a team-best .348 with 39 RBI and 31 runs during the regular season. James is slugging .495 and leads the team with a .419 on-base percentage. He has doubled 15 times and homered five, while striking out only 10 times and currently ranks as the ninth toughest batter to strikeout in the nation.

“He’s more deserving than anyone in the league from that position, probably our most valuable player this year,” Hughes said of James. “Here’s a kid with zero conference at-bats last year, providing that much versatility and depth and quality in our lineup.”

Sophomore center fielder Craig Aikin was a second-team selection. He hit .365 in league games and led the Sooners with 43 runs scored.

Sophomore left fielder Hunter Haley and freshman first baseman/designated hitter Austin O’Brien each landed a spot as All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Haley hit .293 with 41 runs, 30 RBIs and 20 extra-base hits, including six home runs.

Neuse and O’Brien were also named to the All-Freshman Team.

Remembering Moore: West Virginia went through batting practice at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Tuesday then hopped on the bus and went to Moore.

Last year, the Mountaineers arrived early to Big 12 tournament and were in Oklahoma City when the EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore.

The team went to Moore the following day and purchased thousands of dollars in supplies for victims. After it was eliminated from the tournament, players and coaches returned to Moore to help with the cleanup effort. The found Moore residents Mark and Katrina Ellerd and helped the couple haul debris from their home.

On Tuesday, Mountaineers went to see Ellerds and others in the neighborhood.

“It’s been really neat to see the resiliency of the people of Moore and how they’ve come back to what they’ve been through,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “After being over there this morning and how the town has been rebuilt, you would never know a tornado went through there.”

It wasn’t the first time the West Virginia team saw the Ellerds this year. It flew the couple up to Morgantown, W.Va., for the program’s preseason banquet in February.

Plea for six: All the Big 12 coaches made a plea for the conference to receive six bids to the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas seem to be locks for next week’s NCAA tournament. Only West Virginia (27-24, 9-14 Big 12)) appears to be on the bubble for an at-large bid.

“It’s really encouraging to hear all these coaches say this league deserves six bids because we’re currently sixth,” Mazey said. “If they were saying we deserve five bids I would be worried a little bit.”

Back to 100 percent: OU pitcher Jake Elliott, who will get the start today against Oklahoma State, only went three innings against the Cowboys last Friday in the Bedlam series. Elliott allowed one run on three hits. The early exit was not due to fatigue or ineffectiveness.

“They wanted to bring me back on short rest for (today),” Elliott said. “That’s why I was on a pitch count. Otherwise, I would have gone a lot deeper in that game.”

Avoid the walks: OU coach Pete Hughes said after Saturday’s victory over Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale that throwing strikes was a huge key against the Cowboys. They led the Big 12 — along with Texas — with 230 walks this season.

“They’ve been very selective and they will make you pay if you get into a lot of hitters’ counts,” Elliott said. “You have to get ahead and throw strikes.”

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