NORMAN — Danielle Koltz has never even been to Oklahoma. Now, she’s getting ready to take on the country’s top softball team on its home field in Norman.
Koltz, one of the senior leaders on Marist’s MAAC-winning squad, will lead her team against the No. 1 overall seed Sooners at 7:30 p.m. today at Marita Hynes Field. And she’s not letting one minute of the experience slip away.
“It’s a pretty cool experience, and it’s a lot bigger than our school,” she said of OU’s campus. “It’s unbelievable.”
She’s not just referring to the campus. For Koltz, the Red Foxes’ trip to just their second-ever NCAA tournament, and first since 2006, is fulfilling a dream she’s nurtured since she first arrived at Marist’s campus four years ago.
“Our freshman year, I think we only won like 10 games,” she said. “It was pretty bad. It’s unreal how far we’ve come since then, and this is a big step for us.”
Much of that credit goes to coach Joe Ausanio, who in his five years at the helm has led the program to a conference championship and a tournament berth.
And he’s not afraid of the competition. The Red Foxes haven’t played anyone of Oklahoma’s caliber this season, but a year ago, with many of the same players, Marist came close to upsetting the country’s No. 1 team in California, outhitting the Bears 6-4 but ultimately falling 1-0.
“We know what we’re up against,” he said. “It’s not like we haven’t seen these teams before. We’re happy to be here but we want to put in a good showing. Last year we gave Cal all they could handle for one day, and we’re hoping that (today) can be our day this year.”
Chamberlain on a tear: After a tough weekend at Texas three weeks ago in which Chamberlain went hitless in the series for the first time in her career, she has responded with what has been one of the best stretches of her career.
In the eight games since that series, Chamberlain is batting .579 and leads the team with 12 RBIs and four home runs, including a pair of bombs in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State.
Sooners bring in more awards: While the Sooners have spent the week preparing for the NCAA tournament regional that kicks off tonight, the honors have kept pouring in.
Eight players were named to the academic All-Big 12 team, a school record. Seniors Michelle Gascoigne and Brianna Turang and junior Javen Henson joined underclassmen Callie Parsons and Jessica Vest on the first team, while Brittany Williams, Georgia Casey and Erica Sampson were named to the second team.
The All-Region team also was released on Thursday, and OU had six athletes receive the honor.
Keilani Ricketts, Turang and Lauren Chamberlain were all named to the first team, while Gascoigne was joined by Destinee Martinez and Shelby Pendley on the second team.
Bedlam series spurs Ricketts: Coach Patty Gasso said she was glad the Sooners ended the regular season against Oklahoma State because it would keep the intensity high entering the postseason.
It certainly worked out for senior pitcher Keilani Ricketts, who pitched her fifth no-hitter of the season in the finale, three months after she opened the season with a no-hitter against Stanford.
“We wanted to set the tone with that last series,” Ricketts said. “We came out and left it all on the field heading into the postseason.”
Sooners’ history with regional teams: Oklahoma is a combined 18-2 all-time against teams in the Norman regional.
That includes a 16-2 mark all-time against Arkansas, and 2-0 in postseason games. OU also is 2-0 against their other possible second-game opponent in Fordham, with both wins coming in the 2010 regional.