John Klein: Challenges loom as ORU looks to continue streak
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, May 25, 2012
5/25/12 at 4:42 AM
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Related Story: ORU rallies past Southern Utah in Summit League tournament
Original Print Headline: Challenges loom as ORU looks to continue streak
Oral Roberts baseball coach Rob Walton played at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys were in the midst of an amazing 16-year run as Big Eight champions.
Walton's Golden Eagles are on a similar trajectory but face serious challenges as they seek their 15th straight Summit League title.
ORU opened play in the Summit League Tournament on Thursday at J.L. Johnson Stadium, and the tournament continues on the ORU campus Friday and Saturday.
The Golden Eagles are the top seed, but many believe they face a serious challenge to what has been a dominating conference streak.
"We've never talked about it because there is no reason to talk about it," said Walton about the streak. "They all know about it.
"But you can't worry about it. As a ball club, all you can do is go out and try to get a little bit better every day. That's especially true for this team."
Walton, in dealing with the streak, is following the plan of Gary Ward, his coach at OSU.
Ward put together two of the most cherished streaks in college baseball - 16 straight Big 8 titles and a record seven straight College World Series appearances.
"I was on some of those ball clubs, and the streaks were never mentioned," said Walton. "Again, there's no need to mention it.
"Everyone knew about the streaks. It was one of the reasons players wanted to play there. We believe our streak is one of the selling points of our program to recruits."
Walton has apparently followed the Ward plan well in his nine years as ORU's coach.
The Golden Eagles have nine league titles and nine NCAA appearances under Walton (OU coach Sunny Golloway started the league title streak as coach of the Eagles).
Walton had ORU within two victories of the College World Series in 2006, when Clemson rallied twice late to win both games of a Super Regional series.
Oral Roberts made its only College World Series appearance in 1978 under coach Larry Cochell, who later coached OU to the national title in 1994.
But, for pure consistency, ORU's current baseball streak is one of the athletic highlights in the history of the school.
The Golden Eagles (33-22) finished the season strong, winning 16 of their last 20.
That put ORU in its familiar role as the top seed in the conference tournament.
ORU's league championship streak has put the Golden Eagles in the NCAA Tournament 14 straight years.
This year, winning the league title is the only way ORU gets into the NCAAs.
Some years the Golden Eagles would have been good enough to get in with their body of work for the season.
This is not one of those seasons. So, the pressure is on.
"I don't think that is anything we're thinking about," said Walton. "We're just going out and trying to get better.
"This is a team with good players. We just haven't been able to put things together because of the injuries. But this is a team with a lot of potential. Before the season, I really felt like we would have a good team."
This season is the biggest threat to ORU's league championship streak in the past 15 years.
Oral Roberts has struggled with a series of injuries that have decimated the pitching staff at times this year. In addition, an odd assortment of injuries have kept Walton juggling his lineup to find nine healthy bodies.
As a result, ORU has fallen far short of expectations.
The Eagles expected to be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode this year, but it has been more difficult than expected.
"I still had pretty high expectations," said Walton. "I think that's what you want. You always want to believe you have the potential to be pretty good. And we've got that potential.
"Whether we'll get to see that potential reached is still up for question."
Southern Utah No. 1 Bo Cuthbertson looks back after running to third base guarded by ORU No. 5 Jose Trevino during the Summit League Baseball Tournament game at the ORU J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World