Yesterday, the defending Big XII Champion Oklahoma Softball team held their annual media day at Marita Hynes Field on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.
OU Softball Head Coach Patty Gasso
Coming off a disappointing loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship game, the Sooners who have been tabbed as the #2 team in the country in both preseason polls, look to start putting the pieces together to gear up for another exciting season of Sooner Softball.
Gasso said that although this is predominately a veteran squad, there is still much learning to do before they hit the road for their season opener against Stanford.
“We are really anxious to get started again and we have a lot to learn and given the way last season ended, we feel like we have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. I think with what happened at the end of last year in that final game, we were all in just absolute shock and when we packed up and came back home, everybody just dispersed. They went home or wherever they were going next so we didn’t really as a team get to talk a lot about what transpired besides what happens with our team right after the game. I stood in the locker-room room before our first practice when everyone was back, you could see emotion and they still feel it inside and it’s not something you just shake off and say oh well. Our players tasted that and they had their hands on that trophy and they knew it and let it slip away but that is in part what makes them even more driven right now and it’s very visible.
“This team is such a different team although there are a lot of returners, they dynamic is different because of all the incoming freshman and then the addition of Shelby Pendley. There are battles all over the field and the depth that I have is unbelievable and when I break this team in two, and they are scrimmaging against each other, you get the feel like you are watching two top 10 teams playing each other so it’s really a pleasure to watch them fight for their positions. I have unbelievable depth right now.”
Returning Player of the Year, Keilani Ricketts is back in the circle along with battery mate and fellow senior Jessica Shults. Also returning is Freshman Player of the Year Lauren Chamberlain and infielder/pitcher Georgia Casey.
The Sooners return one of the most powerful if not the top power hitting team in the country and one of the top incoming freshman classes in the nation. In what Coach Gasso tabbed as the “Dream Team” when referring to her current crop of recruits, the Sooners have power up and down the lineup. As an added bonus, OU has added sophomore power-hitting infielder Shelby Pendley (transfer from Arizona) to the roster as well. Pendley was named an All-Pac-12 First Team honoree while with the Arizona Wildcats last year as she started all 57 games at shortstop and led the Wildcats in slugging percentage (.703) and home runs (19). She also finished second on the squad with a .331 batting average, 55 runs batted in, 121 total bases and 39 runs scored. She will be immediately eligible and Coach Gasso says that she is a special player and will fit right in with this Sooner squad.
“Wow, she is a tremendous athlete,” said Gasso. “We are still teaching her our system but she has caught on real quick and she has connected very well with Coach MacKay (OU’s hitting coach) and has really connected with the athletes as well. Just watching her on the field, you can see that she is going to be something really special.
“One thing that you have to know when you come here is that you are going to have to work and if you don’t have passion and you can’t really put softball as a priority, then this isn’t the place for you and I think Shelby (Pendley) has that personality. She wants to win and at times, she is almost too hard on herself and that gets in the way but she knows that when she came here that she would have to work and she has done that. This program isn’t for everybody but for the ones that it is for, we end up doing very well and win some championships with it.”
In a question that everyone asks, Gasso said that Pendley said that she just didn’t “fit” in the Arizona program.
“Sometimes when a player goes to a high profile school like Arizona is, the fit just isn’t right and I think that was the situation for Shelby. You can go and do everything possible and be as successful as you can and Shelby obviously did that but the ‘fit’ just wasn’t right. She had nothing but good things to say about the coaching staff but the fit wasn’t there so she made the decision to come here and we are glad to have her.”
Gasso says that her freshman squad is not only speedy and athletic but they have tremendous power as well.
“This freshman team has a ton of power and when we are practicing, there are more balls on the other side of the fence than inside the park and Leslie Miller, Paris Townsend, Jules Townsend and Erin Miller all have tremendous power and strength.”
This year, the Sooners will have over 16 teams on their schedule that were ranked in the top 25 last year and Gasso and her Sooners jump right into the frying pan as they will face the Stanford Cardinal in their opening game in the Kajikawa Classis in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday February 8.