NORMAN – When OU’s freshman class of 2021 arrived on Norman’s campus, he wanted to make a change.
And the Sooners needed it. They went 27-28 (11-13 Big 12) the previous season, which marked their first losing season since 2003.
But the down year didn’t deter OU’s incoming freshman class, which included Jackson Nicklaus, John Spikerman and Wallace Clark. He fed the youth group.
“It was definitely something we were looking forward to,” Nicklaus said. “We wanted to be part of a group of men who would put this program on the map and put us with the elite group of college baseball teams.”
OU took that next level last season when it made it to the championship round of the College World Series, and its true freshmen played a big part in the unlikely run.
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Nicklaus and Clark made the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, while Spikerman made the Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team.
OU will lean even more on its group of players now as sophomores next season, which kicks off at 3 p.m. on Friday with the start of a three-game home series against Cal Baptist.
Eleven players from last season’s OU squad were selected in the 2022 MLB Draft, leaving the sophomore Sooners as the undisputed leader.
“It’s exciting to know it’s our team,” Nicklaus said. “Last year we felt like role players but now we had to take on a leadership role with this club. We are excited to see what we can do as leaders.”
Expectations are high for Nicklaus, who was recently named to the preseason All-Big 12 Team.
The Overland Park, Kansas native showed his power at the plate last season. He batted .288 and collected 11 home runs, which marked the second-highest total on the team.
Nicklaus should hold it down at second base, while Clark is slotted into third base. A Tulsa native, Clark batted .257 last season and tallied 39 hits to go along with 27 RBI.
Clark could also see some catcher time following the departure of two-year starter Jimmy Crooks. It’s a position Clark hasn’t played in since eighth grade, but he understands that being a leader includes making sacrifices for the team.
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“I feel like catching is something I can do, and I think I can do it pretty well,” Clark said. “It’s an interesting transition to go from being really comfortable on third base or any other infield to having to be a rookie, sort of, to (catcher). … Whatever the team wants me to do” .
Meanwhile, Spikerman has experienced a transition of its final season.
He had to learn from the bench at the start of the campaign. Spikerman did not make his debut until OU’s game against OSU on April 8 due to injury.
Spikerman finished his freshman year with 15 RBI on .317 and earned a preseason All-Big 12 Team selection for the upcoming campaign.
“It was a different perspective, sitting on the sidelines,” Spikerman said. “You learn a lot about what’s going on in the game from a viewer’s point of view, so I think that’s helped me a lot.”
OU performed above expectations last season and are once again tasked with defying adversity.
The defending Big 12 Tournament champions are chosen to finish fifth in the conference preseason poll. But the underdog role is nothing new for OU’s sophomore class, which is set to lead its team this season.
“They got the job done,” OU head coach Skip Johnson said. “What mark do you want to leave on a program? We talk about it a lot…The leadership they’ve shown has been incredible.”
OU v. California Baptist
WHEN: 3:00 PM Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman (ESPN+)
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