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ORU Must Overcome Early Injuries

ORU Must Overcome Early Injuries ORU Must Overcome Early Injuries

Originally Published: Feb 18, 2010 6:34 PM CDT

Eagles Ready to Defend League Title | Seniors Ready to Carry Load at ORU



Bobby Lewis
Oklahoma Sports Mobile Journalist

TULSA, Oklahoma – ORU head coach Rob Walton will have to get creative with the Golden Eagles’ starting lineup when he starts his seventh baseball season in Tulsa this spring. Three key pieces to his championship-caliber team will be forced to watch the first few games from the dugout with injuries.

Speedy outfielder Joey Winiecki has been slowed following the minor knee surgery he had in early February. Walton penciled him in as an early season leadoff candidate. The junior will be out a few weeks until his knee is back to 100 percent healthy. In two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Winiecki set a school record with 100 hits in his freshman season, while batting .444. He stole 30 bases his first year, and swiped 19-of-20 bags as a sophomore.

“(He) is probably the fastest guy we’ve ever had in our program from home to first,” said Walton. “He’s a true burner. He can fly. We’ll miss him early in the season.”

Nick Baligod fell during Christmas break and broke several small bones in his hand. The right fielder had surgery to stabilize the hand with a pin. To avoid reinjuring that hand, Walton probably won’t allow the junior to swing a bat until the team is more certain of how Baligod’s his hand will react to the vibration created after contact, but he said the “five-tool player” will probably be ready to play around the second week of the season.

Slugger Brett Sowers had offseason hip surgery after he began to feel discomfort last year. The junior showed off his powerful swing in 2009 by hitting .359 with 23 doubles, 12 homeruns and 49 RBIs in 2009 while playing for Yavapai College in Prescott, Az.

“He’s got well above-average power. He’ll be able to hit some balls a long way when he gets healthy in his hip,” said Walton. “I think it’s even going to get better as the year goes on.”

The shortage of game-ready bodies does give the coaching staff an opportunity to shake up the lineup and mix in some new players. Walton said freshman catcher Bennett Pickar, a 2009 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves out of high school, should have an immediate impact on the club. He and a handful of other players could open some eyes in the season’s first few weeks.

“From an offensive standpoint, I think we’ll have more depth. We’ll have guys come off the bench,” Walton said at the team’s media day on Wednesday. “We’re going to miss Joey and Nick the first month of the season, but their replacements are good players, and I think they’re going to compete well.”

The Golden Eagles have won 12 consecutive Summit League championships and have flirted with the College World Series for nearly a decade, but the ORU skipper knows in order to win, he needs his best players back on the field.

“As a coach that’s what you are praying for,” said Walton. “If that happens, that will give us our best chance to make a run. I think we’ll be healthier once we get into the season. We’ll get a shot in the arm.”

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