OMAHA—Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway has two players from California on the team—second baseman Danny Black and righthander Bobby Shore.
Golloway says neither player realizes his potential and Shore, in particular, needed several reminders during the season. "I tell him all the time," said Golloway, " 'If you really knew how good you were you'd be pounding the zone like crazy instead of nibbling on the outside.' "
But when asked who would start Tuesday night's game against Clemson, Golloway did not hesitate.
"Bobby's been throwing the ball really well," Golloway said. "Nothing against Zach Neal. He's kind of our Friday night guy all the time, so people are going to probably scratch their heads, but I think everybody saw how well Bobby's throwing it."
That's not always how Golloway saw it from the dugout, however. In fact, the coach had finally seen enough during Shore's start last month against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament.
Golloway went out to visit Shore at one point early in the game, followed by Oklahoma catcher Tyler Ogle and joined by the Sooners' infielders. The expected a conference on the mound. But Golloway waved them away, preferring a private conversation with the pitcher.
"Bobby and I just had a little cap-to-cap and heart-to-heart," said Golloway. "It was basically, 'This is really ridiculous when you have that kind of stuff. Let's be men of courage and let's go.'
"And I went back and sat down and everybody wanted to know what I said."
Golloway didn't share the conversation. "That's between Bobby and me," he said. "But I'm going to tell you what, Bobby pitched his tail off and he hasn't looked back."
Oklahoma ending up beating Kansas State 13-2 that day, but Shore came away with more than a victory. He also learned a few things.
"Trust myself," said Shore, who is 10-4, 3.86 and 77 strikeouts in 91 innings. "I know I'm a really good pitcher. And trust my teammates. I know they have my back. Let them play for me."
In the NCAA regionals, Shore pitched the clinching game in a 3-2 win over North Carolina and was named MVP. He also pitched the clinching game of the Super Regionals against Virginia, tossing eight shutout innings to send Oklahoma to Omaha for the first time in 15 years.
This isn't Shore's first trip to a World Series, but it is his first visit to the one played here. And it will be his first opportunity to pitch on such a stage.
"This is the best place to be right now," said Shore, a 6-foot-1 junior from Oceanside, Calif., just north of San Diego. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
It is similar to how Shore felt in 2001, when he was a member of the Oceanside American team that reached the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. An injury limited him to a pinch hitting role, although it remains memorable.
"First time up I got a base hit and a couple of RBIs," said Shore. "And I struck out against Almonte. That's always a good story to talk about."
"Almonte" would be Danny Almonte, a pitcher for the Bronx team, who made headlines for dominating at the Little League World Series— including throwing the first perfect game in 44 years—but is best remembered for being two years too old for Little League.
That seems a lifetime ago now for Shore, who has developed into quite a pitcher in his own right.
"You always recruit a guy and think he's going to be pretty good," Golloway said. "He was a junior college All-American, but he wasn't 93 (mph). I'm looking up there late in a game and seeing 93 on the scoreboard. Everybody's board is a little different, their gun. But 93s? The thing's really popping."
It seems a little encouragement—or a few well-chosen words from your coach—can go a long way.
"Sometimes when you do that guys just melt right there," said Golloway. "And sometimes they stand up and they're basically forged into what they should be.
"I really think that's where Bobby is right now. He's having fun, he's excited and he knows he's getting the ball."