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Sooners ready to defend title

NORMAN, Okla. — The defending National Champion Oklahoma Sooners are nearing the 2014 season and a repeat of their title and met with the media for the first time Monday afternoon.

Assistant coach Melyssa Lombardi addresses the media Monday afternoon.

Head coach Patty Gasso was unable to attend the event, but assistant Melyssa Lombardi took the podium instead, highlighting what a good offseason it’s been.

“I think I would just start out with the National Championship and it was an unbelievable ride for us last year,” Lombardi said. “It’s, I mean, a year full of memories that we will never forget and we’ll always hold onto. But now that we are basically less than a week away from our season, that’s a memory that we’re able to kind of put on the shelf now and focus on this new season and our new journey.

“So, one thing that I think we’ll get a lot out of, I think, the National Championship is we have a lot of experience coming back. We have seven starters, a ton of experience, which I think will be invaluable for us and what it’ll do for this year.”

While their two best power hitters in first baseman Lauren Chamberlain and third baseman Shelby Pendley return, their entire battery moves on, including ace and National Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts, pitcher Michelle Gascoigne and catcher Jessica Shults.

So, those are big shoes to fill.

“I don’t think you replace them,” Lombardi said. “I think the four seniors that we had last year were just tremendous athletes, leaders, just really knew how to be clutch. And I don’t know if we necessarily can replace a Ricketts. So, I don’t think we look at it [as] replacing here, but we look at the athletes that we come in are great athletes that are going to have their own story to tell, which I think is going to be a very good one.

A number of pitchers could fill that void, including Stanford transfer Kelsey Stevens, sophomores Leslie Miller and Taylor Dewbery, JUCO transfer Maggie Ham and even second baseman Georgia Casey.

“Georgia will definitely—I didn’t mention her earlier—but Georgia definitely will be on the mound for us,” Lombardi said. “And she’s a tremendous second baseman, and I’m excited for her to give everybody to see what she can do on the mound. Georgia has good speed. She’s got very, very good movement, real crafty. You will definitely see her on the mound for us, and I think you’ll see her at second and I think you’ll even see her at shortstop as well.

“So, if she’s not on the mound, she will be somewhere else playing. But last year she pitched for us just a little, but just with the two seniors that we had, we really didn’t need to use her a whole lot. This year we will definitely need her experience on the mound as well, so yes she will be a big factor on the mound for us.”

The Sooners, as mentioned, do bring back Chamberlain and Pendley, who combined for 52 home runs, plus Casey (.343), center fielder Destinee Martinez (.342) and outfielder Brittany Williams (.331), among others.

So, the lineup should be stout once again.

“Well, it’s going to just look like a different team,” Chamberlain said. “Obviously we’ve lost some people, but I think we’re capable of getting the same thing done. It’s just going to look a little different this season.”

Certainly it will most likely have to be a more offensive oriented team with a lineup that produces big time runs this time around, though the Sooners pounded the ball last year.

Regardless of the players lost, too, there are still some key leaders, including captain Chamberlain, who should be able to carry this team without many of its key cogs from a year ago.

“I think you look at Lauren Chamberlain, who’s our captain this year and I think she did a great job as a leader helping those seniors last year,” Lombardi said. “So, I think you’re going to see her step in and be huge as a captain. Georgia Casey is a great leader, Destinee Martinez [as well]. We have seniors in Javen [Henson] and Brittany [Williams] that are—it’s their senior year and they want to finish strong. They’ve had a great career, so I think you’re going to see them as well.”

One thing’s for sure: The Sooners have the itch and they’re ready to get back out there.

They’ll get to do so when play opens at 5:30 p.m. CT Friday in Fullerton, Calif., against Kentucky.

“I mean, obviously we want to get back [to Oklahoma City],” Martinez said. “We plan to get back. But I think it’ll just be a day-by-day thing. We are just anxious to get back out on the field and see what exactly it is that we have to work on and the next steps to getting back.”

The opening weekend will feature five games in three days, also against Cal State Fullerton, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and Pittsburgh.

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