Sooners don’t regret postponing pro careers

By John Helsley Published: June 10, 2006
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HOUSTON - Ryan Rohlinger nods his head in that dreamy-eyed, what-if sort of way, recalling his decision to remain a Sooner and put pro ball on hold.

"Last year, when it ended, the draft came and a lot of guys who could have gone didn't, says Rohlinger, OU's third baseman.

"It crossed my mind not to come back.

Crossed a lot of minds.

Amid the disappointment of an abruptly ended season and the uncertainty of a coaching search, 12 Oklahoma seniors-to-be separately sold themselves on another year in crimson and cream.

The Dedicated Dozen.

Now, with the Sooners on deck for the first Super Regional appearance in school history, against No. 1-ranked Rice with a coveted College World Series slot at stake, none admits a single regret.

"Great decision, says OU senior outfielder Chuckie Caufield. "You look back to how hard we worked all year, all we've been through as a group.

"Then losing the first game at the regional, a heartbreaker, to see how hard we battled back, it's a wonderful feeling.

It's rare for any decent team to return 12 seniors, considering Major League Baseball snatches up most of the best junior talent in its annual June draft.

And with Oklahoma, the overload of seniors is stunning, considering all the baggage lugged from last season forward.

The Larry Cochell incident. The curious coaching search that delivered Gene Stephenson for all of a few hours, then re-started before Sunny Golloway was finally put in place.

It might have made more sense for players to bail, either to pro ball or another program or just to escape.

And yet, OU has more seniors than any of the other 15 teams still playing.

And nine Sooner seniors are either everyday starters or key members of the pitching staff, either as a starter or reliever.

The Determined Dozen.

By contrast, among fellow Super Regional squads, North Carolina's roster includes but one senior. Stanford, Ole Miss, Miami and Georgia Tech all have just four.

"They've meant the world to us, says Golloway.

Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.

"We're a very close ballclub, Caufield says. "We do a lot of things together. We get along well. And that's a key thing, when you've got guys who love each other and like being around each other, you'll get more guys coming back.


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Super Regional

Where: Reckling Park (4,500), Houston.

When: Saturday 6 p.m.; Sunday noon; Monday, if necessary, noon.

Tickets: All-session packages are available for $33, while single-game tickets go on sale today for $15, online at www.riceowls.cstv.com or by phone at 713-522-6957.

TV: Saturday ESPN2 (Cox 28), Sunday and Monday ESPN (Cox 29).

OU vs. Rice

Bottom Line: The Owls are built on pitching and defense, a trademark of Wayne Graham's teams. Rice ranks third nationally with a 3.02 ERA and leads the country in strikeouts per nine innings (9.6). The Owls have fanned 594 batters in 5572/3 innings. OU's front-line pitching has been solid, with Daniel McCutchen and Steven Guerra combining for 20 wins. And the Sooners are the nation's top statistical defensive club. While the Owls are Super Regional regulars, this is a first for any of the Sooners. Rice gets an edge at home and with a deeper pitching staff. But OU has been hot at the plate, with its 47 postseason runs more than any other club. To get out of Houston and on to Omaha, the Sooners better stay hot, get extended outings from McCutchen and Guerra and keep mistakes to a minimum.

By John Helsley

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OU claims the most seniors -- 12 -- of the 16 teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament. And they've made a major impact on the Sooners' extended season.

John Brownell: 5-0 with two saves out of the pen.

Chuckie Caufield: Leadoff man batting .358 with 18 stolen bases.

Steven Guerra: Wins leader with 11.

Daniel McCutchen: Big-game pitcher offers wins (9) and moxie.

Russell Raley: .358 batting average ranks second on the club.

Freddy Rodriguez: Made 47 middle infield starts, batting .322.

Ryan Rohlinger: Leads the Sooners with a .377 average and 12 homers.

Scott Rooker: Reserve outfielder saw limited action.

P.J. Sandoval: No. 3 starter contributed six wins.

Will Savage: Closer has a staff-high 10 saves and seven wins.

Jon Shackelford: backup catcher and infielder.

Kevin Smith: nine homers and a team-best 65 RBIs.

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