TULSA, Okla. - Oral Roberts baseball returns to J.L. Johnson Stadium following at five-game road swing as the team plays host to South Dakota State to begin League play. The three-game series will kick off Friday at 6:30 p.m. as Bryce Howe takes the mound for the Golden Eagles. Saturday's game is scheduled for 2 p.m. while the series finale will come Sunday at 1 p.m.
SERIES HISTORY WITH SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
The Golden Eagles lead the all-time series with South Dakota State, 26-11. ORU has won six of the last 10 meetings between the two schools, including two straight. The Jackrabbits were the only Summit League team to take a home series from ORU last season when they won 2-of-3 from Apr. 24-26. Overall, ORU won four matchups with SDSU in 2015, including a 9-3 victory in semifinals of The Summit League Championships.
HOME SWEET HOME
After playing 11 if its first 16 games of the season at neutral sites or on the road, the Golden Eagles will return to J.L. Johnson Stadium for seven straight games and 10 of the next 11. The team opens Summit League play with South Dakota State coming to town followed by a midweek matchup with Oklahoma. The team will welcome IPFW the following week for a three-game set before hitting the road for a single game at Kansas State before returning to Tulsa to host the Bison in early April.
LEADING THE WAY
To no one's surprise, Matt Whatley has led the Golden Eagles offensively this season. In 16 games played, the sophomore has a .338 batting average with 14 RBI, two home run and three doubles. He has earned 10 walks on the year for a .471 on-base percentage. Nationally he ranks 35 with two triples. Not far behind is second-year man Nick Roark. The team leader with four home runs on the season, he has thrived at the number two spot in the batting order.
After a sluggish start to the 2016 campaign, returning First Team All-Summit member Noah Cummings has steadily saw improvement at the plate. After the teams' spring break road trip, the sophomore saw his batting average climb from .194 to .277. He picked up base hits in each of the Golden Eagles five games, including two multiple hit games. He also hit his first home run of the season in the second inning at No. 13 Mississippi State to give Oral Roberts the early lead.
Matt Whatley sits at fourth in The Summit League in batting average (.338), and second in RBI (14). On the mound, Brady Womacks leads the league with four saves while Josh McMinn is fourth in the league with 7.45 strikeouts per game.
DID YOU SEE THAT?
Coming into the game at nationally ranked Mississippi State, ORU's Cale Tims had pitched at most one inning a total of six times in his young career. The sophomore did not show any signs of stage fright at historic Dudy Noble Field in his first career start as he led the Golden Eagles to a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs. In total, Tims went five complete innings allowing just four hits and one run while striking out a career-high six batters en route to the win.
Sophomore catcher Matt Whatley has been named to the 2016 Johnny Bench Award Watch List as announced by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission. Whatley was one of 74 catchers named to the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award which is given annually to the top Division I collegiate catcher. Whatley was the only catcher from the Summit League to be named to the prestigious list. The watch list will be narrowed down to the semifinalists on May 18 followed by the announcement of the three finalists on June 6. The Johnny Bench Award will be presented on June 30 in Wichita, Kansas at the 19th Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet. The award honors Cincinnati Red Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, who was not only one of the greatest catchers of all time but revolutionized the position. He was the first catcher to use a protective helmet in the field, popularized catching one-handed and kept his throwing hand behind his back.
CLOSING IT OUT
Junior Brady Womacks has been the arm in the bullpen that has been called in the ninth to close out games. The right-hander has four on the year and leads the Summit League in the category heading into the weekend and is 21st nationally. His last save came against No. 13 Mississippi State as he struck out the side to secure the victory for the Golden Eagles.
The Golden Eagles have been keen to getting out of trouble when opponents put runners on base this season, turning 17 double plays on the year. Against Little Rock, ORU was able to turn nine during the series. The team ranks 27th in the nation in the category and first in the Summit.
Matt Whatley had his 17-game reached base streak snapped against Mississippi State (3/16) did not reach base for the first time this season. During the streak, he hit .361 with two home runs and 14 RBI with a .538 slugging percentage.
THROWING THE ARSENAL
The Golden Eagles used its whole arsenal against Wichita State in a 6-4 win at J.L. Johnson Stadium (2/24). In total, ORU put 10 different pitchers on the mound. The last time the team used 10 or more pitchers in a game came at Wichita State in the 2013 season in a 10-inning affair.
COACH GETS 100
Oral Roberts Head Coach Ryan Folmar eclipsed the 100-win mark over the in March with a 14-5 victory over Little Rock. With a 104-82 career record over four years with the Navy and Gold, he became the sixth coach in program history to reach 100-wins.
WEATHER NOT SO NICE
The Golden Eagles have not had Mother Nature on their side over the last three weeks as the team has been forced to alter or cancel midweek games. ORU's season opener at J.L. Johnson Stadium against Wichita State was moved back a day as was the teams' midweek matchup with Missouri State the week after. Heavy rains in the Dallas area forced a cancellation of the Golden Eagles' game against Texas Tech in Frisco this week.
The Golden Eagles' early season schedule featured three Missouri valley Conference programs, including nationally ranked Dallas Baptist and Missouri State. The team finished its first seven games with a 3-4 record and a series win at No. 26 DBU; the first series win over the Patriots since the 2008 season. The Golden Eagles also picked up a win over Wichita State in the teams home-opener at J.L. Johnson Stadium. The team still has two games with MVC programs as a return trip to Wichita State is in order on April 5 and the Bears come to Tulsa April 19.
If you haven't paid much attention this year, you may be a little lost when you look on the field. That is because there are 20 new faces to the program this season, including eight freshmen. It marks the largest turnover in the program since Ryan Folmar took the reins during the 2013 season. The Golden Eagles lost 12 seniors off of last year's Summit League Champion team, as well as five draftees in 2015.
Oral Roberts has been tabbed to repeat as Summit League baseball champions in a poll of the league's head coaches. The Golden Eagles are looking to extend on their record 15 regular season titles and 16 tournament championships in 2016. ORU received all five of its possible first-place votes. Fort Wayne, last season's tournament runner-up, was picked second, its highest preseason ranking in program history. South Dakota State was slotted third with the final first-place tally, followed by Omaha, North Dakota State and Western Illinois. The Golden Eagles finished the 2015 season with a 41-16 overall mark and 25-5 in The Summit League, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the 25th time in program history.
2015 MLB DRAFT
Five Golden Eagles were selected in the MLB First Year Player Draft last spring. Anthony Sequeira was drafted in the 23rd round (Pick: 684) by the Phillies; Audie Afenir was taken by the Yankees in the 25th round (Pick: 753); Xavier Altamirano went in the 27th round (Pick: 818) to the Athletics; Guillermo Trujillo went to the Orioles in the 35th round (Pick: 1063) while senior Jacob McDavid was selected with the final pick of the draft (Pick: 1215) by the Angels. This 2015 class was the largest since 2009 when six Golden Eagles were taken.
PLAYING TO THE COMPETITION
In six games, five against nationally-ranked teams in 2015, ORU posted a 5-1 records, beating Oklahoma, No. 12 Texas Tech and No. 10 Oklahoma State on the road. ORU also took down the Cowboys and Red Raiders at J.L. Johnson Stadium.
TWO-STRAIGHT, 30-WIN SEASONS
The 2015 squad topped the 30-win plateau for the second straight year. The two-straight 30-win seasons were accompanied for the first time in as many years with a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
EVERYBODY LOVES THE LONG BALL
With home run totals down the past few seasons due to the BBCOR bats, the Division I Baseball Committee voted unanimously to switch from the raised-seam baseball used in the past to a flat-seamed ball as used in Major League Baseball in 2015. The switch was widely expected after an NCAA study revealed that the flat-seamed ball travels an average of 20 feet further than the raised-seam ball when in the air. The height of the seams does not affect the exit velocity of the ball off the bat; rather, the "drag effect" of the raised seams takes effect the longer a ball travels through the air.
The Golden Eagles will play host to Oklahoma on Tuesday at J.L. Johnson Stadium. The Sooners and ORU a scheduled to take the field at 6:30 p.m.
ORU baseball fans will have new ways to watch this spring as the athletic department utilizes new technology during home games. A total of 23 games, including a portion of The Summit League Baseball Championship are scheduled to be streamed free of charge with audio overlay from the Voice of the Golden Eagles, Geoff Haxton.
For the latest information on ORU baseball, follow @ORUBaseball on Twitter or go to www.ORUAthletics.com. Fans can also receive updates on the team by downloading the Golden Eagles Front Row App at ORUAthletics.com/frontrow or in the App Store.