As the ORU baseball team puts its finishing touches on the upgrades at J.L. Johnson Stadium, they also hope to put the finishing touches on what Head Coach Ryan Folmar calls a “productive” offseason and start the spring in stride.
“We’re going start the next chapter with full squad practice and intersquad games. We’re two weeks away. We have a lot of preparation to do between now and then, but we’re excited to get it going,” said Folmar.
The ORU program has been trending upward since Folmar took over in 2013 and the improvement has not only come from the play of the ball club, but also the team’s amenities. The team had new field turf installed this offseason along with new bullpens.
The success on the field has also been there for the Golden Eagles. After winning just 55 games in his first two seasons, Folmar’s squads have won 79 games the last two seasons along with two Summit League Championships.
While the Golden Eagles have had regular season success, it has been the postseason where they have fallen short in recent years. The team has been eliminated in the NCAA regional the past two seasons, most recently by TCU in 2016.
“Ultimately, it comes down to 3 to 5 pitches that determine the game. In last year’s regional against TCU, we were down one run in the sixth inning, and I threw a few pitches that were detrimental to us,” said sophomore pitcher Josh McMinn. “I can’t speak for those guys in 2015, but I know they felt that they were just as good as Arkansas.”
ORU will return a majority of the last year’s starting lineup returning in 2017 led by First Team All-Summit members Noah Cummings and Matt Whatley. The duo helped anchor an ORU lineup that finished the season tied for 14th in the nation in doubles and 25th in batting average.
“We can’t look too far ahead. We have a lot of weapons on the mound, offensively and defensively,” said Whatley. “If we take it one day at a time, we’re going to be able to get that monkey off our back and make some noise in the NCAA postseason.”
The team also returns all but one of its starting pitchers from last season. Bryce Howe returns as the workhorse for ORU, but team has several options who could take the ball this spring. McMinn along with Trevor McCuthchin, Logan Michaels, Cale Tims and Taylor Varnell all made at least three starts for the Golden Eagles last season. Newcomers Miguel Ausua, Ryan McCoullough, Justin McGregor could also serve as options in the rotation.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be huge in determining some roles as we go into that first weekend,” said Folmar. “We have a lot of guys with experience, and they may have to take on a different role than they had a year ago, but we have the guys to fill those various roles.”
The Golden Eagles toughest stretch of the season comes right away as the team begins an eight-game road trip starting at Alabama on Feb. 24. The trip includes a invitation to the Dairy Queen Classic for a three-game series. The series will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Golden Eagles open the season on Friday, Feb. 17 when they host the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. at J.L. Johnson Stadium.
Check out the projected starting lineup and players to watch below
Projected Starting Lineup
- CF-Nick Rotola
- SS-Dylan Snypes
- C-Matt Whatley
- RF-Noah Cummings
- 1B-Brent Williams
- 2B-Nick Roark
- LF-Michael Hungate
- DH-Sam Grellner
- 3B-Cal Hernandez
Golden Eagles to watch in 2017
Dylan Snypes, SS
Snypes comes to the Golden Eagles after two seasons playing shortstop at East Central Community College in Mississippi. East Central has produced solid shortstops over the years including Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. Last season, Snypes hit .288 with 21 extra-base hits (five home runs), 38 RBI and 23 stolen bases. He runs well and has a smooth left-handed swing that makes consistent contact and drives the ball to all fields. He should fit right in to an already productive lineup.
Ryan McCoullogh, RHP
Like Snypes, McCoullogh is also a new face to the Golden Eagles, but his contribution will come on the mound. McCoullogh went 7-3 last season at Fort Smith Community College, but he did have a 4.84 in 12 starts. McCoullogh’s biggest attribute is his unique 3/4 arm slot which can be very deceptive to hitters, especially right-handed hitters. He has the experience to be a starter, but if he comes out of the bullpen, he could be a very effective late inning option and bridge to Brady Womacks in the ninth.
Sam Grellner, DH/OF
Grellner is returning for his second season with the Golden Eagles and could be in for a breakout season in 2017. He played primarily as the designated hitter for the Golden Eagles last season and hit .247 with a home run, 12 RBI and nine walks. Grellner is built like a lumberjack and with more at bats could tap into his raw power and strength. He’ll likely get the first look at the DH spot when the season starts.