Matt Parker is the Head Coach at Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville.
Bob Broughton, courtesyrunner.com: You've been the Head Coach at Oklahoma Wesleyan for three years, and have had a winning record all three years. You took the Eagles for their first trip to the Baseball National Championship. What were the big factors in turning things around?
Matt Parker: I think the biggest thing for us in the process has been recruiting guys who fit our program and our University. Our coaching staff has really focused on finding those tough, gritty kind of players who fit our style of play. The other factor has been getting guys who buy into and believe in our program and the direction it is headed.
BB: Your team certainly got their money's worth in Lewiston: a ten-inning loss to eventual champion Cumberland, a 12-inning win over Tabor, and an 11-inning win over #1 Oklahoma Baptist. Let's talk about that Cumberland game first. How often does anyone come up against a ten-inning relief appearance?
MP: We definitely got all we bargained for in Lewiston. The relief appearance by the guy from Cumberland [RHP Clint Meadows] was tremendous! If you are going to win a National Championship, you need someone to step up and do something out of the ordinary, and he certainly did that. He really saved their bullpen that night. I thought we did a good job swinging the bat against him. I think we scored 7 runs that game, but he was good at dodging the big inning and keeping it small for them.
BB: And you missed a chance to win it in the ninth with a baserunning mistake. What happened there?
MP: We did have a chance. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what happened on the play. I know that Jose Ruiz drove the ball down the right field line with Jeff Butler on first. Jeff is a tremendous base runner, but I think got deked a little bit by the ball. I guess he lost the ball in the lights and turned around to see the outfielder catch it off the bounce. Jeff thought he had caught it in the air and began to return to first to tag up. By the time he and Jose saw each other, it was too late and they had passed one another.
BB: You got a huge effort by Jeff Butler against Tabor. He tied a tournament record for hits in a game.
MP: Jeff Butler is a tremendous player! He is without a doubt the engine behind our driving force. The Tabor game was the night after the base running mistake versus Cumberland, and one of the newspaper guys in Lewiston asked how I thought Jeff would respond. Knowing how tough and gritty Jeff is, I just laughed and told them he would be fine. I had no idea that he would set a World Series record for hits in a game. However, it doesn’t surprise me that he stepped up when we needed him most
BB: That win over Oklahoma Baptist was a big one. Your pitchers got it done. What were you telling them to do between innings?
MP: Our pitching staff was awesome all year! They really carried us most of the year. Coach Longshore and Coach Steinmetz do an exceptional job with preparing them to compete. We really weren’t telling them to do anything that we haven’t told them all year. As a staff, we just want to attack hitters at the bottom of the strike zone. Against OBU, we did that really well. Plus, it was fun to watch Diego Ibarra set a tone for us on the mound. He’s been that guy all year. Diego is just so competitive that he elevates our guys playing behind him.
BB: You had a 2-1 loss to the Bison during the regular season. Are you going to be able to keep them on your schedule next year?
MP: Since I have been at OKWU, we have alternated home sites with them each year, and we will continue that in 2015. This coming year they will travel to Bartlesville for a single 9 inning game. It will be a ton of fun!
BB: Is there anything else on next year's schedule that's interesting?
MP: As far as our schedule goes, we are still working to complete it. However, we do have a Tuesday game versus Oklahoma City in late April. Also, for the 2016 season, we are transitioning into the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference so we are playing several of those schools in our non-conference schedule this year. I think that will be a lot of fun for us to play those guys.
BB: Looks like you've got some good players coming back next year. Let's start with Butler.
MP: As I told you, Jeff Butler is the guy who makes us go. He is a phenomenal leader who elevates everyone around him. Jeff is a great player and an even better teammate.
BB: Diego Ibarra, who pitched well in that Oklahoma Baptist win.
MP: Diego returns after going 13-1 and really being the guy who sets the tone for our pitching staff on the mound. His competitive drive is electric, and everyone on our team loves the day he pitches!
BB: Juan Berumen, who led the team in strikeouts, and got eight wins for you last season.
MP: Juan probably has the best pure stuff on our team. He did a great job pitching in game 4 of our conference weekends. It was a huge advantage for us to have him going in game four.
BB: Any other players that you're expecting big things from next season?
MP: Coach Longshore and the rest of our coaching staff has worked really hard in bringing in the right group of guys to help us to continue the moment that we have built here over the last three seasons. I think we will have to wait and see a little bit before I can really name names. However, I do feel comfortable with the talent that will be joining us this fall.
BB: You played college ball at Lyon, another NAIA school. What were the highlights of your career there?
MP: Lyon College was a great place for me to play! I couldn’t have asked for a better program or university to help prepare me for my career choice. I would say that the biggest highlights were my Junior and Senior seasons. During those years, we climbed as high as 4th in the NAIA polls both years. Those two teams were a ton of fun!
BB: You were an assistant coach in a top-quality program at Cal Baptist. What did you bring from Cal Baptist to Oklahoma Wesleyan?
MP: Our program at OKWU is a melting pot of all the programs I have been fortunate enough to be around. I have tried to take a little bit of something from every one of them. I was very fortunate to be able to work for Gary Adcock at Cal Baptist. I would say the biggest thing that I brought from CBU was the organization factor. This organization goes from practice planning all the way to our game day procedures and our we run our dugout. I really enjoyed how organized we were at CBU, and I think our players did as well. Once I got to OKWU, I wanted to do the same thing for our players. I wanted them to know that they could trust our coaching staff to help them get better in all areas of their life. I thought the best way for us to do that was to be organized.
BB: Could you tell us something about Oklahoma Wesleyan as an academic institution? What is the school known for?
MP: Oklahoma Wesleyan University is a tremendous academic institution! Our faculty has been rated #1 by CBS Money Watch for three consecutive years! This is a huge honor, and our University could not be happier. Our student-athletes are very lucky to have such a first-class faculty and staff to help them reach their goals.
BB: When you're talking to potential recruits, what do you say to them when you're trying to convince them to come to Oklahoma Wesleyan to play baseball?
MP: Oklahoma Wesleyan University makes my job as a baseball recruiter very easy. We have a great campus, tremendous faculty/staff, and wonderful facilities so it really sells itself. To tell a guy about the baseball program, I make them aware that our program is going to be built around 3 areas. We are very committed to these areas. They are academic success, athletic success, and spiritual success. While they are a member of our program, we will work hard to help them improve in all three areas of their life. From there, we discuss what success is in those areas and how we will help them. It also helps to be able to show them the examples of our current players and their successes.
Oklahoma Wesleyan Baseball page