Last Tuesday at Oral Roberts, Oklahoma first baseman Hunter Lockwood experienced a seminal moment. It was the at-bat that showed he’s capable of being much more than a power hitter in the Sooners’ lineup.
He was at the plate in the top of the ninth of inning with two runners in scoring position and OU needing a hit to put the game away. Oral Roberts pitcher Alex Gonzalez kept nibbling at the outside corner with fastballs and Lockwood kept lacing them foul down the right-field line.
Lockwood was crowding the plate, taking away the outside corner. Common sense tells a pitcher it’s time to come inside. Lockwood knew it, too, and he laced the inside fastball right at Gonzalez for a two-run single.
“The adjustments you make are critical to success,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “And that whole at-bat was about making the right adjustments.”
Those kinds of at-bats take place all the time in college baseball. It’s truly a case of pitcher and batter locked in a battle to see who will give in first. Batters know what they’re looking for, but only a few are truly patient enough to take pitches and fight off the ones they don’t want until they get it.
Lockwood, who leads the Big 12 Conference with nine home runs, knows what his pitch is. One of the reasons he jumped off to such a hot start this season was pitchers habitually challenged him inside throughout the season’s opening weeks.
As scouting reporters became more detailed, those pitches became scarce. Lockwood gave in and started chasing the ball hovering around the outside corner. In mid March, the freshman went five straight games without a hit and the frustration showed.
Then the light clicked on.
“When you understand how teams are trying to get you out, you have to start looking for it,” he said. “You have to start looking for certain pitches in certain places.”
One thing that will play out over the final month of the regular season is whether of not Lockwood can go from being a slugger to a hitter?
Golloway believes that ninth-inning at-bat against Oral Roberts showed he can. There will be more evidence when the Sooners (23-14) open a three-game series against Alabama State (16-23) at 6:30 p.m. today at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
The changes don’t necessarily mean Lockwood’s power numbers will decrease. It’s his ability to hit with power to any part of the field that sets him apart. He’s been able to sneak homers inside of both foul poles. He’s hit them to both alleys and even to dead center field.
“You just don’t see guys who have that power in college baseball very often,” Golloway said. “He has the ability to be special.”
But he’s only hitting .272. Golloway believes there’s a great hitter waiting to emerge. That final at-bat against the Golden Eagles showed the potential is there.
“I’d like to think I could have done that back in March, but I’m not sure,” Lockwood said. “I know now that it’s the adjustments you make during the season that makes you a better player.”