OU softball team finds hope after defeat
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Friday, June 08, 2012
6/08/12 at 4:19 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - It was after 1 o'clock Thursday morning when Patty Gasso started crying.
The Oklahoma coach had just watched her team fall to Alabama, 5-4, in the deciding game of their best-of-three NCAA softball championship series. She was able to hold it together for a few opening statements to the media, but then she lost it when she thought of her players.
"I've been very fortunate to be able to coach them," Gasso said while choking up. "I love them like they're my own kids. I hurt for them and yet I'm so proud of them. So it hurts.
"It hurts me, because I don't want to let them go right now."
It was excruciating to realize OU's 54-10 powerhouse, featuring a pitcher who threw 457 strikeouts and a lineup that bashed 102 home runs, had come just short of a title. That OU's four wild pitches, two errors and a passed ball, not to mention some inopportune rain - which brought a 12-minute delay - that washed away the momentum of a 3-0 lead, set up Alabama's win made it worse. The game was delayed two hours and 49 minutes at the start. It began at 9:55 p.m. and ended around 12:30 a.m.
But there was certainly something to be said for the Sooners' future.
"It's pretty exciting to know we have so many people coming back," catcher Jessica Shults said.
Start with Keilani Ricketts, whose school-record 457 strikeouts gave her 909 over the past two seasons. If she wasn't the most feared pitcher in college softball already, she surely will be going into her senior season.
Shults will be a senior as well, giving the Sooners another year as catcher, captain and home run threat. Her 20 round-trippers were second on the team to Lauren Chamberlain's 30.
Chamberlain, who homered twice in the finale against Alabama, will be just a sophomore. She will return to hit ahead of Ricketts. Ricketts, who sent 17 over the fence, will hit ahead of Shults. What was already the strongest heart of any team's order should only be stronger in 2013.
Table-setting slap hitters Brianna Turang and Destinee Martinez return as well. So do power hitters Georgia Casey, Javen Henson, Erica Sampson and Brittany Williams.
Gasso should have an embarrassment of bats in her lineup, a potent complement to Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne, the second starter who went 16-1 as a junior this year.
There is but one thing the Sooners need to do to take next season one win further - firm up their defense.
OU got away with being the third-worst fielding team in the Big 12 Conference because of pitching and offense. At the Women's College World Series, however, opponents could pitch and hit as well. Could the Sooners' unsteady infield hold up long enough to win it all?
No. Two fielding errors set up Alabama's four-run second inning in the Tide's 8-6 series-squaring win Tuesday night. Two throwing errors on the same play handed Alabama (60-8) a 4-3 lead in Wednesday's finale.
The Sooners expect to learn from those mistakes and gain from the overall experience the WCWS afforded them.
"Oh, absolutely," Gasso said. "A 100 percent yes."
If it was an ultimately heartbreaking series, there were many rewards in getting there.
"This has been an unbelievable journey," Gasso said after composing herself Thursday morning. "Although we didn't get what we wanted, it's a journey that I will remember for the rest of my life."
Women's College World Series
Original Print Headline: Sooners find hope after defeat
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Oklahoma's Kelley Reeves listens to coach Patty Gasso after the Sooners lost to Alabama in the Women's College World Series early Thursday in Oklahoma City. ALONZO ADAMS/Associated Press
Oklahoma players listen to head coach Patty Gasso after Thursday's loss to Alabama in the deciding game of the championship series in the Women's College World Series. ALONZO ADAMS/Associated Press