NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway made one move this week and pitcher Jonathan Gray responded with an even bigger one on Friday night at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
The move was shifting Gray to the Friday night starter role. He’s been the Sooners’ best pitcher this season, but that job requires going seven innings-plus just about every start and keeping the bullpen fresh for the final games of the series.
Gray aced the test against Northwestern State, tossing a complete-game five-hitter in the Sooners’ 1-0 victory.
The performance was the first complete game of Gray’s collegiate career and came with a career high 12 strike outs.
“I felt great,” Gray said after improving to 4-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.51. “I just wanted to fill up the (strike) zone and not give up any walks. I didn’t walk anyone. I just wanted to compete and let the defense back me up and they were there.”
The victory lifted OU to 15-4. Northwestern State dropped to 9-11.
For Gray, it was a his second straight dominant performance. The right-hander threw seven scoreless innings in OU’s 4-0 victory over UCLA last Saturday in Los Angeles. It was that effort that caused Golloway to shift Gray and left-hander Dillon Overton’s spots in the rotation.
The move helped OU squeak out a win on a night it did little offensively. It only had six hits against Northwestern State’s Robert Baker (2-1).
One of them was a 3-0 fastball Baker threw to OU’s Matt Oberste, which he deposited over the left-field wall. The homer was the designated hitter’s sixth of the season and ran his hitting streak to 19 games.
“I’m hitting the right balls at the right time in the right spot in the count,” said Oberste, who is hitting .443 on the season. “It’s all working out.”
There isn’t much that can go wrong when Gray pitches at Friday’s level. The win only required 111 pitches and his fastball still topped 100 miles per hour in the ninth inning.
Stamina is the last piece of the puzzle for Gray. His velocity and control already have him projected as a first-round pick in this year’s Major League Baseball draft. The endurance is a new addition to his skill set.
“He’s starting to really take it to another level,” Golloway said. “He’s already one of the premier guys in the country, but he’s starting to take it to another level. There are going to be few and far between like that. It’ll be exciting. Let’s see how Lefty (Overton) responds after seeing that.”
OU can only hope that’s the case. The series resumes at 1 p.m., today. Overton will get his chance to show what he can do. It will be a tough act to follow.