- Golden Eagle Club
As he enters his ninth season, Walton’s coaching philosophy remains the same.
“You have to coach with a plan and a goal in mind,” says Walton. “We have a plan in place which is geared toward helping us reach our ultimate goals: being a consistent Top-25 program and, most importantly, getting to Omaha.”
Since becoming head coach, Walton has produced 13 All-Americans, including first-team selections Dennis Bigley (2004) and Brian Van Kirk (2008). Since 2004, 35 Golden Eagles have been either drafted or signed by Major League clubs.
In his 13 seasons overall at ORU, Walton has coached eight Summit League Pitchers of the Year and 24 first-team all-conference pitching selections.2011 was a year of milestones for Walton, who captured his 300th career victory along with the Golden Eagles 14th consecutive Summit League Tournament championship. ORU's season was highlighted by two upset victories over No.2 seed Oklahoma and No.1 seed TCU to advance to the regional finals in the NCAA tournament. Walton also continued his service for USA baseball as an assistant coach.
In 2010, Walton overcame injuries to the pitching, unexpected losses from the MLB Draft and a slow start to capture the program’s 13th consecutive Summit League tournament championship while also advancing to ORU’s 22nd NCAA Regional appearance.
Following the season, Walton was named to the 2011 USA Baseball National Team coaching staff for the third time. He will serve this summer as pitching, a role he filled in 2005.
The 2009 season was a true test of Walton’s outstanding coaching abilities. After losing nine two juniors and three signees to the 2008 MLB Draft, Walton and the Golden Eagles suffered through an injury-plagued 2009 campaign. At various times throughout the season, Walton was forced to play as many as four walk-ons in the lineup.
Despite those setbacks and the loss of 14 games to weather, Walton still managed to guide the Golden Eagles to the Summit League regular-season and tournament championships for the 12th straight season. Backed by a pitching staff which featured three starters chosen in the first 11 rounds of the 2009 MLB Draft, the Golden Eagles took a No. 2 seed into the Tempe Regional and advanced to the program’s fifth regional championship round in his six seasons as skipper before bowing out to host and eventual College World Series participant Arizona State.
Mark Serrano earned Summit League Pitcher and Player of the Year honors in 2009, also garnering three different All-America awards. Jerry Sullivan, a third-round selection of the San Diego Padres, also earned All-America honors. Nine Golden Eagles earned All-Summit League accolades.
Walton’s success on the college diamond followed him into international competition in 2008 when he was named the head coach of USA Baseball’s National Team. Walton led Team USA to the gold medal at the FISU World Championships after defeating Japan 1-0, marking the first time the National Team has gone undefeated (24-0). The pitching staff set a National Team record with an ERA of 0.88, and posted six shutouts while not allowing more than two earned runs in any of the 24 contests. The bullpen was a key part of that success, only allowing eight earned runs in 84.0 innings for an ERA of 0.87.
In 2008 Walton led the Golden Eagles to their 11th-straight conference title and NCAA regional appearance. ORU moved into third place all-time in NCAA history for consecutive conference crowns, while also posting its 11th straight 40-win season (48-14).
Twelve Golden Eagles earned All-Summit League honors, and ORU captured player, pitcher and newcomer of the year awards for the fourth consecutive season.
Brian Van Kirk became the first Golden Eagle to earn First-Team All-America honors since Dennis Bigley in 2004 after posting a batting average of .414 with 18 home runs and 74 RBI. Carlos Luna was tabbed a Second Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and a third-teamer by the NCBWA after posting a 13-1 record with a 3.35 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 99.1 innings.
Despite playing one of their toughest schedules in 2007, ORU finished its season as one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning 25 of the final 28 games.
In 2006, Walton led the Golden Eagles to their first NCAA Super Regional berth after sweeping through the Fayetteville Regional. Although the Golden Eagles suffered a pair of heart-breaking losses at Clemson, ORU enjoyed arguably its best season since the 1978 squad advanced to the College World Series.
Under Walton’s guidance, ORU finished the 2006 season ranked in the top 25 of all three major polls. The Golden Eagles posted a 41-16 record and were ranked 14th (Collegiate Baseball), 17th (Baseball America), and 19th (USA Today/ABCA) at the end of the year.
After struggling offensively in 2005, it was a different story for ORU in 2006. The Golden Eagles owned one of the nation’s top offenses, ranking among the top 35 in batting average (9th-.327), runs per game (16th-7.9), doubles per game (9th-2.33), slugging percentage (14th-.495), and home runs per game (33rd-1.04).
The pitching staff remained strong, as the hurlers combined for a 3.63 ERA, good enough to rank 27th in the nation. Known for his ability to transform otherwise pedestrian pitchers into standouts, Walton groomed Chris Ashman into one of the top pitchers nationally. Slated for middle relief at season’s start, Ashman became the sixth pitcher under Walton’s guidance to earn Mid-Con Pitcher of the Year and was one of three players in conference history to win Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year. The right-hander also earned third-team All-America honors by Collegiate Baseball and was named to the ABCA All-Midwest Region Team.
But 2006 wasn’t exactly a piece of cake for Walton. Injuries, poor pitching and slow starts gave ORU a 10-11 record on March 26. It was then Walton began tinkering with the line-up, and making major changes to the pitching staff. The result was a 31-5 mark over the season’s final 36 games -- including five wins over Top-25 teams, a ninth straight Mid-Con Tournament title, a Regional championship and a perfect 8-0 record against regional powers Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Wichita State.
Walton followed up a stellar rookie campaign with another fine season in 2005, leading the Golden Eagles to 42 victories, their eighth consecutive Mid-Continent Conference championship, a Top-25 national ranking and an NCAA Regional appearance. Once again ORU’s pitching staff was among the nation’s elite, ranking sixth nationally in ERA.
Though the 2005 club was long on pitching and short on offense, the Golden Eagles still managed to impress the college baseball world. ORU split a four-game series at No. 8 Miami, enjoyed wins at No. 8 Baylor and versus No. 22 Wichita State. ORU’s prowess against the nation’s elite helped earn the Golden Eagles a No. 3 seed at the Clemson Regional.
At Clemson, the Golden Eagles advanced to the finals for the second straight season, only to fall to the host-Tigers. ORU was 2-2 at Clemson.
Walton was named ORU’s eighth head coach on June 11, 2003, and it didn’t take long for him to make his mark.
All Walton did in his rookie season as the Golden Eagles’ skipper was lead ORU to its first 50-win season in 20 years, produce the nation’s best team winning percentage (50-11, .820), help the Golden Eagles to an end-of-season Top-20 ranking for the first time in 20 years, guide ORU to a No. 2 seed in regional play, it’s first such seed since 1986, direct the Golden Eagles to their record-breaking seventh straight Mid-Continent Conference crown, and earn Mid-Con Coach of the Year honors.
The 2004 campaign was certainly one for the record books. With Walton’s calm-but-confident approach and attention to detail leading the way, ORU scored several big wins throughout the season, none more impressive than those collected over a one-week span in April in which ORU won at No. 10 Wichita State, took two of three at No. 15 Arizona State and then used a ninth-inning rally to defeat No. 18 Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Strong pitching, a sound defense and a powerful offense were the hallmarks of the 2004 Golden Eagles. With Walton in front, ORU ranked third nationally in team ERA (3.00), eighth in fielding percentage (.974) and 18th in batting average (.323).
While those are impressive accomplishments for a first-year head coach, they shouldn’t be considered too surprising for someone like Walton. In his six previous years as ORU’s pitching coach, Walton developed a reputation as one of the nation’s top pitching instructors and as an outstanding recruiter.
But more than those attributes, it was Walton’s coaching style which made him a first-year phenom.
When ORU found itself looking for a head coach soon after the conclusion of the 2003 season, the athletic administration didn’t have to look far or for too long. Walton was not only the number one choice to replace the departed Sunny Golloway, he was the only choice.
Widely credited with building ORU teams which were a combined 232-82 (.739) over the previous five seasons, Walton was named ORU’s eighth head coach at a press conference on June 11th, 2003.
The former Oklahoma State pitching star joined ORU prior to the 1999 season and was instrumental in building a program which won the Mid-Continent Conference championship and advanced to NCAA Regional play each year.
Under Walton’s guidance, the ORU pitching staff has become one of the nation’s finest, ranking among the NCAA Top-25 in team earned run average in five of the last six seasons.
While at ORU, Walton has been instrumental in the development of several outstanding pitchers, including former Golden Eagles Michael Rogers and Dennis Bigley. In 2001, Rogers earned Second-Team All-America honors after compiling a 14-1 record and 2.37 ERA. Rogers missed the entire 2000 season while recovering from elbow surgery. He set a school record in 2001 with 137 strikeouts, leading a staff which posted a record 569 strikeouts.
A two-time Mid-Con Pitcher and Player of the Year, Bigley took home five All-America awards in 2004 after going 13-1 with a 2.91 ERA. In 2005, Bigley broke both ORU and the Mid-Con’s career victories mark and ended his career with another All-America honor and 41 career victories.
Walton had an extensive and illustrious career in collegiate baseball, competing for Oklahoma State from 1983-86. At OSU he compiled an overall record of 20-6 and helped lead the Cowboys to four straight College World Series appearances.
In 1986, Walton’s senior season at OSU, he earned player of the game in the CWS for a shutout performance. The shutout was the first in the College World Series since 1976.
Walton was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1986, and was a member of that organization for four years. While with the Orioles Walton compiled a record of 23-8 in A and AA ball. In fact, in 1988 Walton was second in wins for the entire Orioles organization. He was twice named Carolina League Player of the Week while tying a league record for consecutive shutout innings pitched (26).
Walton was forced to leave the minor leagues in 1989 due to a shoulder injury, but is still a member of the Professional Baseball Players Association.
A native of Rutherford, N.J. Walton was a three-sport star in high school, earning All-State honors in soccer, basketball and baseball, and in 1999 became the first athlete inducted into the Rutherford High Hall of Fame. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Texas Rangers as a senior, but opted for college.
Walton and his wife Michelle have been married 22 years. They have three children: sons Davis (20), and Donovan (17), and daughter Cassie (13).