CHICKASHA – As Head Coach Mike Ross enters his sixth year at the helm of the baseball program at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, he says the main thing he looks for in his team is the same every year.
“I’m expecting them to go out and play hard and compete every day, and we will see where we end up,” he said. “My goal is at the end of the year is to have a chance to play for a championship, and you’ve just got to make the national tournament to do that because anything can happen when you’re in the post season.”
Coming off of the best season in Drover baseball history, the expectations are high for the 2014 squad, but Ross said he thinks his players can carve their own space in Drover baseball history.
“This team this year is going to have to go out and create their own success. We can’t rely on what those guys did for us last year,” Ross said. “We’ve been there before and now it’s their job to keep us there. We don’t want to take any steps backward.”
The Drovers are receiving votes in the 2014 NAIA Baseball Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll and were picked fifth in the Sooner Athletic Conference by conference coaches.
Preseason polls are often based off of the previous year’s performance. In 2013, the Drovers made their way to their first ever NAIA Baseball National Championship tournament, playing in three games in the Oklahoma City pool before ending the season.
That year, the Drovers had a record-breaking 41 wins, the program’s first NAIA All-Americans and two players sign with professional baseball franchises. Additionally, Ross won his first SAC Coach of the Year honor.
“I think last year we got where we wanted to go and got to the national tournament. That’s always been our goal and last year was the first time we got there,” Ross said.
Returning for another year are starting catcher Owen Adams, starting pitcher Chris Fischer as well as catcher Kyle Lewis and pitchers Aaron Copfer and Josh Terrell — all of whom Ross said he expects to lead the team.
“Those guys were here last year and they know what it takes to get to where we want to go. I’m going to expect a lot of big things from those guys,” he said.
Spending a great deal of time over the summer recruiting new talent for USAO, Ross and Assistant Coach Sam Hayden assembled an essentially new team.
“This is what you get when you recruit junior college guys,” Ross said. “We identified the players we needed and Coach Hayden did a great job of making a lot of contacts and bringing these guys in.”
With so many new faces and the depth Ross expects, he was unable to isolate key newcomers for the Drovers.
“They are pieces of the puzzle that I’ve got to figure out where they go and at what times,” he said. “There will be guys who will be ‘every day’ guys but for the most part, it is going to take all 30 guys to go out and have a successful season.”
The always-tough Sooner Athletic Conference has undergone some changes in the last few years. Starting this season, four teams — (13) Northwood, Southwestern Assemblies of God, Southwestern Christian and (20) Texas Wesleyan — have joined the conference.
Including the new teams, four SAC schools are in the preseason Top 25 poll.
“The league is just loaded. It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “It is probably stronger … It’s Sooner Athletic Conference baseball, and that’s why I love being here and working in this league.”
USAO will be offering free live stream broadcasts of the majority of the home games this year. Games will stream in real time along with live stats, a convenience USAO added in 2010.
“It’s exciting for us because we get a lot of kids from different states where their parents don’t get to watch them play,” Ross said. “I hope the fans are excited about it, and I hope they take advantage of it.”
Watch the broadcast!
The Drover baseball season kicks off on Friday on the road for a three-game series at Texas College. The Drovers return for their home opener at 1 p.m. Feb. 8 against Bethany College.