OU softball: Sooners return to practice field to avenge national title series loss
Cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets usually signify the start of fall softball schedules across the nation that allow collegiate teams to dust the cobwebs off the equipment bags following a three-month break. Similar to how the results from preseason NFL and NBA games won’t decide playoff berths, fall softball wins and losses won’t count toward NCAA rankings or overall records come springtime.
Although the ‘fall ball’ results won’t statistically help the team, for the first time under coach Patty Gasso, Oklahoma softball has a specific reason to appreciate the opponents it will face during this year’s fall schedule, which opens with the OU Fall Festival this weekend: the team wants to wipe its slate clean after a 2-1 series defeat to Alabama for the 2012 national title.
Last season, each Sooner victory earned the team a symbolic gold ball, and once OU had a handful of wins, the coaches treated the team to a special outing at a local restaurant or other chosen destination.
OU won several important games over ranked teams and went on to win its ninth Big 12 title, giving the team numerous gold balls to admire in the clubhouse. But the lone national championship ball remained in the glass bowl at the end of the season and throughout the lonely summer months until it showed up in Gasso’s hand before the first official fall practice.
According to the coach, after seeing the ball for the first time since June, the players broke down and emotions spilled onto Marita Hynes Field.
“We hadn’t really talked about (the loss) and the feelings we had because after the game everyone wanted to be with their families,” Gasso said. “But you could see the players crying, and I knew it wouldn’t be hard to get the team to practice this fall.”
Gasso, who enters her 19th year as the Sooners’ skipper, said she already could see the fire that had been lit for the returning starters after having their first taste of the national title series.
“I see a national championship-caliber team that knows what it’s like to play on that stage,” Gasso said. “They bring (that intensity) everyday in practice.”
For the players, they said it was about raising the bar higher to make sure they would be one of the final teams competing for the title again this season.
“When I first stepped out onto the field this fall, I felt like I was still in the [Women’s College World Series],” sophomore infielder Lauren Chamberlain said. “It was a tough loss, and although we have decided to put it behind us, we’re already playing harder this season because we know what it takes to get there.”
But that’s not necessarily something Gasso said she wants to see from her team in the month of October when the 2013 season doesn’t officially start until January.
“We want them to trust their instincts and quit forcing plays,” Gasso said. “That’s one thing we’re going to work on this fall is getting the team to trust themselves.”
OU will host its annual OU Fall Festival this weekend, where the Sooners will face five opponents in three days before finishing the schedule with an in-state opponent and the team’s only away game at North Texas before hosting the National Professional Fastpitch All-Stars on Nov. 1.
While it may take more than these eight contests scheduled this fall for OU to finally get the grease back into the well-oiled program that finished with a 54-10 overall record in 2012, the Sooners said the most important part of this fall stint is the team is continuing to get better everyday.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we’re where we want to be,” senior catcher Jessica Shults said. “Every day, you can feel that everyone is working hard to get back to that stage because we know what it takes to get to the (WCWS). We’re not at that point yet, and we don’t want to be there right now; we want to be at that point again in June.”