The ORU baseball team enters the 2016 season with a target on its back as the reigning Summit League champion. The Golden Eagles finished the 2015 season 41-16 overall and 25-5 in conference play. The team will look to find success again despite losing four key players.
Catcher/first baseman Audie Afenir, second baseman Matt Brandy, center fielder Derrian James and first baseman/pitcher Anthony Sequeira all graduated, but the team has experienced veteran players such as All-Conference third baseman Chase Stafford along with outfielders Rolando Martinez and Noah Cummings, who are ready to fill the void.
“We’re going to have to have several guys come in and step into big roles and have good years,” said head coach Ryan Folmar. “We lost some key pieces, but we have some good players returning and were excited about some of our new guys. The one thing we just lack is a little bit of experience.”
Sophomore All-American catcher Matt Whatley is expected to lead the Golden Eagles offense this spring. He led the team in batting average during his freshman campaign hitting a robust .355 with five homers, 44 RBI and team-high 16 stolen bases. ORU was one of the best offensive teams in the country last season ranking second in batting average, ninth in doubles and 18th in runs scored. Folmar says there will be a lot of different lineups and they will not commit to one right away.
“We’re just sticking to our process and our routines,” said Martinez. “We just wanna stay within ourselves and not look too far ahead.”
The biggest question mark for the team in 2016 will be the starting rotation. The Golden Eagles must find a way to fill the 247 innings lost with the departure of starting pitchers Xavier Altamirano, Guillermo Trujillo, Kurt Giller and Tyler Buss. Sophomore Bryce Howe will look to lead the staff after going 4-2 with a 3.93 ERA during his freshman season in 2015.
“I don’t think we’re in a position yet to say we’ve found the guys [to fill the rotation],” said Folmar. “We have good pieces and we have good players, we just have to see how they fit.”
The schedule was announced on Monday. The season features match-ups against in-state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. ORU will travel to Frisco, Texas to face Texas Tech on March 8. The Golden Eagles will also have a tough stretch against
SEC powerhouses Auburn and Mississippi State during spring break before returning home to begin conference play on March 18.
“The tradition that ORU has, we’re always going to have a target on our back,” said redshirt senior pitcher Nathan Garza. “When it comes to the other Summit League teams they’re always gonna give us their best, but we just wanna take it day by day.”
The team will begin the season with a two-game road trip against Indiana State next Friday. The Golden Eagles will return for the home opener on Tuesday, Feb. 23 when they take on Wichita State. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at J.L. Johnson Stadium.
Story by Russell Dorsey, Photos by Wyatt Bullard