With that in mind, imagine being Josh Holliday. He’ll enter his first Bedlam contest this weekend as a head coach. Holliday, an OSU player from 1996-1999, played a number of high-emotion games against OU he can still remember to this day.
So what did Holliday have to say this week to reheat the Bedlam flame? With recorders rolling, would he pull a Lovie Smith and give the Sooners some bulletin board material? Not a chance.
He geared his response into a call to fans: show up this weekend to watch some great baseball, starting Friday at 7 p.m. at ONEOK Field in Tulsa where the Cowboys begin a three-game series with OU.
“I’m aware of the series and what it means to a lot of the fans, so you want to do well in the games because you want to reward your fans,” Holliday said. “You want to send your people home happy, but that’s always the case … At the same time, as a coach, you can’t let that impact how you approach the game. You certainly can’t coach any differently. Otherwise, you’ll be a bad leader for your players.”
To recap Holliday: Bedlam is treated like any other conference series the Cowboys have faced this season. His strategy is to keep his players focused on the fine details that lead to wins. All the outside noise is reserved for the dedicated fans.
But even Holliday can’t downplay the significance of Bedlam this year. The No. 19 Cowboys (34-12, 9-8) and No. 13 Sooners (34-14, 11-7) are the only top-25 ranked teams in the Big 12. Each feature MLB-bound talent. And a late-season series win could provide leverage come seeding time for the conference and NCAA Championships.
“You guys get a chance to present to the public the games and how they stack up,” Holliday said. “I’m not real focused on anything other than getting our guys to play. But I suppose if you look at it from that standpoint, you should draw some people out for it. That’s a good point. I really didn’t really think of it that way.”
Holliday’s attitude is a reflection of the Cowboys’ turnaround this season. OSU right-hander Jason Hursh credits a team-first mentality and a rededication to fundamentals to the resurgence. So when Bedlam rolls around, it’s just another series.
“It’s your in-state rival and everybody knows it’s Bedlam,” Hursh said. “But we’re just going to go out and play the game that we’ve been playing all year.”
But when the calendar turns to May, series like this become even more important. It’s the kind of pressure that can reveal the character of a team. Holliday recalls how he felt in those high-caliber Bedlam series back in the late 1990s.
“They’re 18 to 22 years old. I’m 36 – or however old I am – I’ve been through it enough to know there were times when I played in it when I was too amped up,” Holliday said. “Or there were times that I played in it where I was not too bad. You can remember how it felt. I think when you were able to play well, you were able to keep your poise, keep your wits about you so you don’t get caught up in the moment.”
The Cowboys don’t lack confidence. And they shouldn’t. Especially when you consider how wide open the Big 12 is this year. Four teams have at least 30 wins and three teams sit tied atop the conference with 11-7 league records.
“Anyone can beat anyone in this league,” Hursch said. “Yeah, they’ve got some good players and they’re a good team, but so are we. It should be a fun series.”
1.Sooner Stars: OU has two players nominated to USA Baseball’s Golden Spike Award, given annually to collegiate baseball’s best player. Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Gray (8-1) sports a 1.20 ERA with 104 strikeouts. Junior infielder Matt Oberste is hitting a blinding .485 with a .726 slugging percentage. These guys are worth the price of admission.
2. Cowboy Pitching: It’s been junior right-handers Vince Wheeland (8-0, 1.77 ERA) and Mark Robbinette (5-0, 3.06 ERA) who have starred early in the Cowboys’ rotation. But Friday starter Jason Hursh has struggled (4-4, 2.63 ERA). Pitching coach Rob Walton has done wonders for the staff this year, but will it continue into May?
3. What’s ahead: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City will play host to games on Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Following this series, the Cowboys get a midweek roadtrip matchup against Wichita State (30-22). Then OSU hosts West Virginia (29-20, 11-7) for its last home series of the year. The Big 12 Championships begin May 22 in Oklahoma City. NCAA Regionals begin May 31.