By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Some coaches are known for their styles. Pitching and defense works for some. Others are known for their ability to score runs.
New Oklahoma coach baseball Pete Hughes, however, has never been a slave to style.
“I’m never pigeonholed into coaching a team one way,” Hughes said. “I’m going to try to maximize what talents I have in the dugout at that specific time. Recruiting is not a perfect science. We miss on some pitchers sometimes, miss on some hitters. They’re specifically difficult to evaluate as far as being productive players in college. Sometimes you show up in the fall with a different team than you envisioned. So you’d better be flexible to maximize what you have in the dugout.”
Adaptability is something that’s become essential in college baseball. With only 11.7 scholarships to go around, coaches must accentuate strengths and do whatever is possible to hide weaknesses.
The Sooners’ returning roster is heavy on pitching and defense, but light on power. Former coach Sunny Golloway hoped deficiencies in the latter would be corrected in the current recruiting class. Players like outfielder Cody Thomas and first baseman Niko Buentello were guys he believed would add power to next season’s lineup.
If they do, it will help.
Hughes’ teams at Virginia Tech showed some pop in the lineup. They hit .291, averaged 6.4 runs per game and hit 55 home runs. The Sooners hit .282, averaged 5.4 runs per game and hit 32 home runs last season.
Obviously, OU put a premium on pitching in their recruiting and it showed. Winning low-scoring games was what allowed the Sooners to go 43-21.
Will that change? No one knows at this point. Hughes won’t be able to gauge his roster until fall practice begins in September. The only player in town for Thursday’s announcement was outfielder Craig Aikin. There was a conference call with returning players early Thursday afternoon.
Hughes remembers some of the names and faces from OU’s meeting with Virginia Tech in the NCAA tournament’s Blacksburg regional. The Sooners’ 10-4 victory advanced OU to its third Super Regional in four years. It was Hughes’ last game in the Hokies’ dugout.
“One thing I took from Virginia Tech is those guys played hard. They got after it and they had a lot of fun,” OU outfielder Aikin said. “Guys were really cut loose and playing a game. It was a game and they were playing it.”
That is the style Hughes will bring to the Sooner dugout next spring. He knows he didn’t walk into the typical rebuilding situation, and wanted to make sure the players understood the situation.
“I said hello and gave them some quick reminders and a little pep talk. When we get them back to Norman I can’t wait to coach these guys. They’re a talented group,” Hughes said. “I did guarantee that it will be the funnest phase of their baseball career. With change, there’s a lot of worry. But also with change, there’s a lot of good that can come about, too. For me to take over a super regional team, you don’t change, you try to accentuate and maximize your philosophies on a very talented group. It was a good discussion.”