TULSA — Dillon Overton posted impressive wins a year ago, including an 11-strikeout gem in beating host Virginia and helping Oklahoma emerge from the Charlottesville Regional, earning him a spot on the all-tournament team.
Didn't compare to Bedlam.
For Overton, a product of Weatherford, not even the grand stage of the NCAA postseason could match the scene or the setting or the feel of Bedlam, especially his head-to-head battle with Oklahoma State ace Andrew Heaney in the Big 12 Tournament, a game eventually won by the Sooners.
“Even though that Bedlam game was at 9:15 in the morning, we actually had a good crowd,” Overton said. “Half my hometown was there. My whole family was there. It was just fun.
“Even though it was early in the morning, we were out there having fun. And we were ready to go. And I tried to match Andrew Heaney pitch for pitch and everything worked out great.”
For Oklahomans like Overton, Bedlam is bigger than big. And Okies figure to factor prominently in this latest edition of the rivalry, which opens Friday night at Tulsa's ONEOK Field.
Overton and Chandler's Jonathan Gray and Sallisaw's Matt Oberste are key operators for the Sooners; as are Tupelo's Randy and Brendan McCurry, Shawnee's Saulyer Saxon, Tulsa's Donnie Walton and Mark Robinette for the Cowboys.
Get used to the heavy Okie influence, too, with coaches at both schools focused on mining the state for its deep pool of baseball talent.
OU's Sunny Golloway has been buying local for years. Co-aces Gray and Overton, along with Oberste — who leads the Big 12 in most major hitting categories — are the premium examples of this team, and there have been others before them.
OSU's first-year coach Josh Holliday vows to invest heavily in Oklahomans, having grown up in this state, playing and coaching, and witnessing all that the state's high school baseball has to offer. While his predecessor, Frank Anderson, recruited the home state, Holliday hopes to hit it even harder. He has quality assistance, too, with pitching coach Rob Walton a former assistant and head coach at Oral Roberts.
“We find great value in the state of Oklahoma,” Holliday said. “Rob has a strong feel for the state with his 15 years here. And we also work hard to be aware of and be competitive with other players from around the country that identify to what we want Oklahoma State baseball to look like.”
While OU and OSU focus most seriously in Texas for football and basketball recruiting, baseball is different. Part of it is out of necessity, with scholarship restrictions bringing factors like the cost of in-state tuition into play. But part of it is talent, too, with both coaches recognizing a strong talent base, extending from the power programs of Class 6A down to the tiniest of schools in Class B.
“I think there's some very good programs and good coaches,” Holliday said. “I think that some of the very small communities in our state love baseball and play it year round. They do a great job of developing baseball, playing a fall and spring schedule.
“Some of the greatest players in the history of baseball have been small-town Oklahoma people. Mickey Mantle. Johnny Bench. You can go on and on. Baseball across the state is good.”
Oklahoma kids also come with a bonus in addition to talent and skill: passion.
They know the schools, often carry strong feelings for one program and have a deep desire to succeed for that program.
Like Overton, Gray's favorite moment from a year ago, when the Sooners advanced to a Super Regional and were on the doorstop of a trip to the College World Series: Bedlam, when he beat the Cowboys in the regular season.
“That was my favorite game, because I grew up not being too fond of OSU,” Gray said. “It was really good getting a win against them.”
It's the same for the Cowboys.
“It's important that guys want to be at Oklahoma State,” Holliday said. “I want guys who want to be here, to whom it's important that, ‘I want to be in that program. It means something to me. I'm aware of its history. I want to be in Stillwater. And I want to be a part of the community.'
“I want people who love Oklahoma State … because I do.”
On the current rosters, 10 of OU's 32 players are from Oklahoma, while 12 of OSU's 34 are home grown. For both, Texas is the other primary recruiting ground.
And more Okies are on the way, with Golloway adding five and Holliday four in the early signing period in November.
“We would recruit here first because they're the best players and the right players,” Holliday said. “And there are those types of players here … good enough to help us win a championship, and to have a passion to be a part of what we're doing.
“We'll go get the best players anywhere we can. And if they're right here at home, that's awesome.”