Shortly after winning the Big 12 tournament Sunday, Oklahoma center fielder Max White and shortstop Jack Mayfield grabbed the trophy and headed for the dugout. They wanted a picture and a memento of something they spent four years striving for.
“It was so rewarding, and humbling,” White, a senior from Durant, said.
However, neither wants it to serve as a career capstone. They would love for it to come later this month in Omaha, Neb., with a return trip to the College World Series.
That trip is the one every college baseball player covets. Mayfield and White have made the trek. And they want to do again.
“They’ve been talking about it ever since I got here, ever since I first put a foot in this dugout,” second baseman Hector Lorenzana said Tuesday afternoon at L. Dale Mitchell Park. “They say we have to go back to Omaha, because it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced.”
The Sooners’ journey begins at noon Friday when they face Coastal Carolina in the opening game of the NCAA tournament’s Blacksburg (Va.) regional.
For many in the Sooner dugout, Friday will be the first time to step into the NCAA tournament’s intense glare. Lorenzana, a junior college transfer, joins catcher Anthony Hermelyn, freshman left fielder Craig Aikin, designated hitters Kolbey Carpenter and Colt Bickerstaff and most of OU’s roster in the first-timer’s club.
For Mayfield and White, it’s their fourth trip. White has been on the field for 18 of them over the previous three seasons. Mayfield has been involved in a similar number on the field, in the bullpen or from the dugout.
Good or bad, they know their teammates’ eyes will be on them. If they’re relaxed, it will have a calming effect. If they’re nervous, OU will be a nervous team.
They’ve tried to deliver the message.
“It’s already been a long season. The postseason is tougher, but after going to Omaha my first season, I definitely know what it takes to get there. It’s nothing short of hard,” White said, “but it’s very rewarding.”
Their years of service have earned the trust of OU coach Sunny Golloway. Take a glimpse into the dugout when OU’s at bat. Odds are if one them isn’t at the plate, on deck or on base, they’re standing a couple feet from Golloway. They are his extension on the field, and the tandem he relies on.
“They’ve been in it so much,” Golloway said. “They know so much.”
Above all else, they know what it takes to win in June. Golloway is counting on them to communicate that knowledge this week.
OU’s about to entire a hostile environment, but Mayfield and White know what it takes to win in those situations.
“It’s gonna be tough in there with all their (Virginia Tech’s) fans and everything, but we’ve just gotta keep playing ball, take it one pitch at a time,” Mayfield said. “Coach G’s talked about playing one pitch ahead, so that’s how we’re gonna play, and not let the game get too fast. Especially with these young guys. They might let it overlook them, so we’ve gotta slow it down, just keep having fun. At the Big 12 Tournament all these guys were yelling, having fun, backing each other up, so that’s what we’re gonna keep doing.”