OU softball: Oklahoma sees World Series trip from different perspective
Melodie Lettkeman, The Oklahoma Daily
While 26 miles separate the Sooners from ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, the site of the 2012 Women’s College World Series, the journey to earning a national title for the Oklahoma softball team actually began a year ago.
Last year, OU was riding the arm of pitcher Keilani Ricketts and faced teams that weren't playing their best. The Sooners had no business being in the 2011 series, coach Patty Gasso said.
“We had some lineup issues, and we were missing (Jessica) Shults, so we were honestly just hoping to go out and plant some seeds regardless of what happened in the tournament," Gasso said. “But this year, we’re seeing the benefits of what we planted, and we’re ready to reap that harvest.”
Gasso isn’t the only member of this OU squad who sees this year’s WCWS trip through a different perspective; the expectation of making a deep run in this year’s championship is something junior catcher Jessica Shults said is shared by all in the Sooner locker room after the team went a quick two-and-out during the 2011 tournament.
“Everything we’ve been doing and saying this year has been building in order to get back to the World Series,” Shults said. “It’s an honor to get back there, but we’ve all worked really hard and are prepared for it.”
Shults, who missed OU’s 2011 postseason due to illness, will be back in the lineup. While the junior is hitting .382 with 19 home runs this season, Gasso said Shults’ biggest contribution this postseason will come from behind the plate.
“I can’t describe how important [Shults’ return] is to Keilani,” Gasso said. “When you change your catcher, you really change the whole pitching landscape. Plus, they’re really tight both on and off the field.”
And that bond is beginning to show on paper.
Junior ace Keilani Ricketts is at the peak of her game, throwing a .99 combined ERA with 393 total strikeouts and has only given up one earned run during this year’s postseason. In 254.2 innings, Ricketts has issued only 40 walks and limited opposing offenses to a meager .150 batting average. Ricketts also is becoming more comfortable at the plate, leading the Sooners with a .407 batting average and 49 total walks.
With Ricketts leading the way, the rest of the OU offense has risen to the challenge of being a feared lineup for opposing pitchers, hitting for a combined .321 with 95 homers and 334 RBIs.
Shults and freshman Lauren Chamberlain have combined for 46 bombs, while seven members of the OU team currently are hitting above .300 — led by junior outfielder Brianna Turang, who is hitting .750 in this year’s postseason.
That type of balanced offense combined with the fearless arm of Ricketts is something Gasso said sets this team apart from past successful OU squads.
“We’ve got great pitching, a balanced, deep bench and a team that takes care of business both on the field and in the classroom,” Gasso said. “But most importantly, we respect one another, which makes them a very easy team to manage.”
But most importantly, the team — regardless of classification — is all on the same page of understanding that making it to the World Series isn’t a final goal of the season; instead, being one of the final eight teams is more of a means to an end.
“Getting to the WCWS won’t be enough,” Turang said. “Our team is really humble, but I think we’re all beginning to realize just how good we are and how hard we’ve worked this season. We just have to continue to stick to our game plan.”