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Oklahoma Sooners Baseball Preview: Can Pete Hughes and the Sooners get over the hump in 2017?

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This is a make-or-break year for Oklahoma’s baseball coach.

Game Day Gallery | Central Arkansas at Oklahoma Sooners Baseball

Last season was par for the course for Pete Hughes in Norman. Prospects didn't reach their potential, the team didn't hit its ceiling and the Sooners missed the postseason again, denying Hughes his first regional in the crimson and cream.

Sunny Golloway left a lot to be desired — apparently, most of his players pretty much hated him, so there's that — but Golloway's final season in 2012 was also OU's final postseason berth. Was that mostly because of Jon Gray? Yeah. But Golloway could recruit the talent, and he got results from them in Norman.

None of the major sites, like D1Baseball and Baseball America, think OU will make a regional this season. But anything less could cost Hughes his job.

Fortunately, the Sooners have enough talent on hand to make things interesting. That starts with their new pitching coach, former Texas assistant Skip Johnson. Johnson's hire was universally lauded by the college baseball community — some see him as the logical successor to Hughes. But I don't think Pete was interested in hiring his replacement. He wants Johnson to bolster OU's pair of sophomore, righthander weekend starters, Jake Irvin and Dylan Grove.

Irvin should take the ball on Friday nights. He's a big, physical presence with a fastball that sits around 92 and a plus slider. Grove, a few inches shorter at 6-2, sits at a similar velocity and also features a good slider. He pitched less than 30 innings last year, but put on some muscle in the offseason and should be ready for the increased workload.

Graduate transfer Vincenzo Aiello will likely handle the closer role for OU. Righthanders Austin Hansen, Devon Perez and Kyle Tyler are in the mix for the Sunday spot.

Around the diamond, OU lost its best hitter in Sheldon Neuse and will need to replace his consistency and pop. Catcher Dom DeRenzo, outfielder Steele Walker, second baseman Kyle Mendenhall, infielder Austin O'Brien and outfielder Ben Hollas will need to do most of the heavy lifting for the offense.

DeRenzo underwent Tommy John surgery last season, so senior Renae Martinez and freshman Brady Lindsly will probably get the early-season starts. Also, Mendenhall may be OU's X factor — he hit a dismal .183 last season, but if he improves as the Sooners expect, the team will get a huge boost. If he hits that way again, OU won't go far.

I don't think this Sooners squad will make a regional, but I do believe they can finish above the prognostications and ahead of schools like West Virginia and Baylor — maybe even Texas.

Big 12 Prediction:

Oklahoma State 18-6

TCU 17-7

Texas Tech 13-11

Oklahoma 12-12

Baylor 11-13

West Virginia 10-14

Texas 10-14

Kansas State 9-15

Kansas 8-16

Big 12 POY: Luken Baker, TCU

Big 12 Freshman of the Year: Nick Lodolo, TCU

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