By MIKE KAYS
Jake Fisher is back in his element and because of that, he’s finding his way to big stages.
Seizing the opportunity in the stretch run this season, he’s become the No. 3 starter for the Oklahoma Sooners, who begin their best-of-three Super Regional series with LSU at Baton Rouge, La., tonight.
After seeing minimal action late last season, the Keys High graduate and transfer from Connors State began his senior year in the bullpen, working middle relief and after some bumpy early going, performed consistently enough to get a shot at doing what the southpaw has done all his life.
“Throwing out of the bullpen was an adjustment because up to the time I got here, I had always been a starter. But just to put this uniform on, obviously I wanted any opportunity I could get,” he said.
“I knew I could start at this level and I just wanted to show the coaches I had confidence in myself and could give us a chance to win. When I did get the chance, it felt really good to show my team I could perform in that role for them.”
He went 7 1/3 innings against Texas Tech in an 8-0 win, giving up seven hits and striking out a season-high 10 batters. He’s 2-2 as a starter, including a win against Kansas State on May 19 (seven innings, nine hits, seven strikeouts) and then in Sunday’s 10-4 regional final victory at Virginia Tech, where he threw 5 1/3 innings, scattering seven hits.
It just took the entire campaign — or almost all of it, to get here, and some mental adjustment to boot.
He was summoned into relief for the second time against Hofstra on Feb. 17 and in one inning gave up three runs on three hits, two of which were doubles. In his next appearance on March 2 against Pepperdine, he gave up two hits in 1/3 inning, one of which was a home run in a 7-2 loss. Both were no-decisions, but collectively brought him to a decision.
“Being a senior I was trying to do too much out there instead of going back to what I’ve always done, being comfortable and having the right mentality out there,” he said.
In 10 appearances that followed, he allowed three earned runs in 16 2/3 innings, a 1.61 ERA. His ERA as a starter is 2.43 over 33 1/3 innings with 30 strikeouts and seven walks.
His two losses were in relief against Baylor on April 12 where he gave up a solo home run against the only batter he faced, and a six-hit effort in 5 2/3 innings as a starter against West Virginia on May 4, where of his four runs in a 9-3 loss, one was earned.
Pitching coach Jack Giese calls Fisher “one of the most competitive young men we have on this team.”
That’s among some pretty spiffy company.
The other two starters are Chandler native Jonathan Gray (10-2, 1.59 ERA) and Dillon Overton (9-2, 2.91). Gray, picked No. 3 by Colorado in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft on Thursday, is the expected starter on the mound tonight. Overton is also supposed to go high in the draft.
“When you’re on a team with two high-profile pitchers, it’s been a tremendous job for Jake to stay within himself, be who he is, and not worry about the guys he follows and just do his job,” Giese said. He’s done a great job doing that. He doesn’t beat himself.”
His variety of pitches is his best asset, Giese said.
“People will talk about how he can mix his fastball, curve, slider and change-up and one thing that’s not talked about very often is his fastball,” the coach said. “It’s his mix that keeps a batter off balance but he can come with it at 87, 88 mph and it looks faster because of his ability to mix his other pitches and that makes it that much more effective.”
If, according to form, Overton gets the call in the second game, a third game would be necessary only if it’s a 1-1 series. That would bring Fisher to a stage that’s second only to Omaha and the College World Series, and he would be saddled with the task of getting his team there.
“It would be a huge opportunity,” he said. “But I have complete faith in John and Overton and if they go do what they can do, there’s probably not going to be a game 3. If it does come to me, I’m going to battle as hard as I can.”