By Jared A’Latorre, Contributing Writer (Courtesy Photo/Bison Athletics)
With the season nearly in full swing, Oklahoma Baptist University’s baseball team is looking to continue their success and defend their NCCAA World Series title.
The baseball team is coming off back-to-back NCCAA (National Christian Athletic Association) championships and are looking to step up and add a NCAA title to their collection.
Seniors Josh Timms, Brett Burghammer, Juan Gonzalez, and Zane Gelphman are top hitters who Coach Bobby Cox believes that their team can succeed again this season.
“We have a real good core coming back. Returning those four core guys were extremely important to us,” Cox said.
This will be the first year that the Bison will be eligible joining the postseason for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division II, and will no longer compete in the NCCAA tournament. Cox thinks that the past two seasons have brought the best of out his players.
“That was a really good time for us being able to win back-to-back national championships. It was a very enjoyable run both times,” Cox said.
Even though the change from NCCAA to NCAA is a big one this year, Cox still believes that the expectations for his players this year are just like any other.
“Our goals for this year are pretty much [the same] as they are every year; to win conference, make [the] postseason, and hopefully play on a national level,” Cox said.
Cox believes that he knows what to expect to see out on the field during the regular season, but not as much as on the biggest stage.
“This being our first year [in the NCAA], we’re still trying to feel our way of what to expect. I think we know what to expect on the conference level, but on the national level we’ve never been there before, so it’s kind of an unknown deal,” Cox said.
Cox still wants his players to continue play at the same level this season alike with the past two seasons.“ The last two years we finished third in the conference and we hope to continue to play at that level and get into the conference tournament and just see where it takes us. It’s definitely part of the goals and mindset of the group,” Cox said.
Gelphman is on the same page with Cox about what to expect for the upcoming season. “The great thing about this team is that we are all on board with our team goals and expectations. Every game we play [there] is the expectation of winning, no matter the opponent, and we work everyday with the hopes that all of our efforts will lead to a national championship,” Gelphman said.
Gelphman says he believes that the team chemistry is unlike any other. He thinks this special group of players had started connecting even before the season.
“The minute we all got here and started practicing, we all knew that this team was different. By the start of the season, we had probably grown closer as a team than most teams do in a full season.”
Gelphman, like his coach, believes that the challenge of competing for a World Series will be tougher now than ever before, but the team’s chemistry will be key to another possible World Series title.
On the other hand, while injuries have set back the baseball team on the pitching side, the team is looking to fight through that and execute as much as possible on offense and on coaching.
“One thing we’ve had to overcome as of late is four of our pitchers being sidelined with injury, leaving only seven active pitchers. Even though it will be a grind, we all have faith in our pitching staff to pull through,” Gelphman said.
Gelphman believes that if there ever was a team to compete to win an NCAA championship in their first year, it would be his team.
“I don’t think any of us have ever been on a team like this, where every single person is pulling for each other towards one common goal. It’s hard to all be on the same page with so many guys from so many different backgrounds, but out team has something special and we’re definitely not going to I take it for granted,” Gelphman said.
The baseball team will be in action this weekend at home with games against GAC rival Ouachita Baptist on Friday and Saturday. The Bison will be home again on Tuesday versus the River Hawks of Northeastern State.