One last ride: Oklahoma baseball set to embark on final season in the Big 12

As the calendar switched to 2024, the clock ticks faster and faster on the remaining winter and spring sports to wrap up their final days in the Big 12. The baseball program is the last Oklahoma team to start its final campaign in the conference. That changes Friday as the Sooners travel to Arlington, Texas, for three days to kick off their season in the Shriners Children’s College Showdown.

More: How to watch Oklahoma Baseball in the Shriner’s Children’s College Showdown.

Globe Life Field is home to the defending World Series champion, Texas Rangers, and the Sooners themselves will be trying to focus on getting back to the College World Series.

An offseason rebuild focused on pitching. The return of some crucial players from last year’s NCAA Tournament team sets the stage for what Oklahoma will look like in 2024.

Pitching was far and away the biggest weakness in 2023, so it only made sense that head coach Skip Johnson, one of the nation’s best pitching coaches in his own right, attempted to plug the gaping holes in his rotation and bullpen.

The Sooners hit the transfer portal and brought in newcomers Braden Davis (Sam Houston State), Brendan Girton (Texas Tech), Kyson Witherspoon (Northwest Florida State College), and freshman Jacob Gholston to add some talent and power to the staff.

Witherspoon also has a twin named Malachi who could see action during the season, likely during the midweek affairs. The lone returning weekend rotation guy is James Hitt, who’ll probably be in that role this year.

Austin Henry, a transfer from Wichita State, has an abundance of talent and is also someone who may come along as the season goes on. Carter Campbell and Carson Atwood, alongside Jett Lodes, are the immediate names that stand out as trusted arms from the bullpen. That won’t be enough for an entire season, so developing the rest of the bullpen is among the early season priorities.

Simply put, the pitching is the number one thing to watch, especially early on.

On the other hand, Oklahoma should be a versatile offense equipped with power and speed. Center fielder John Spikerman, right field Bryce Madron, third baseman/first baseman Anthony Mackenzie, second baseman Jackson Nicklaus, catcher Easton Carmichael, and outfielder Kendall Pettis return to give Oklahoma an experienced nucleus. Replacing Dakota Harris, drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, will be no easy task, but that job will fall on the shoulders of Jaxon Willits, son of OU associate head coach Reggie Willits.

Willits was rated as the No. 2 prospect in Oklahoma before he committed to the Sooners.

One of the significant additions from the transfer portal to Oklahoma’s lineup is that of the 6-foot-4 Carter Frederick, a transfer from Snead State College. He hit .463 with 14 home runs in 53 games last season.

Oklahoma’s season will come down to how their revamped pitching performs. Offensively, the Sooners are well-rounded with power, speed, situational hitting. They have a nice blend of veteran leadership who has been to the NCAA Tournament and even a few on the team that made it to the championship series in 2022.

Can Oklahoma find its way and somehow push Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech for a final Big 12 title? OU was picked to finish tied for sixth in the Big 12 Baseball Preseason Poll.

It all starts in Arlington on Friday afternoon against the Oregon Ducks. The Sooners hope their season ends in Omaha, Nebraska.

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Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire