NORMAN — No coach will say it, but those around the program usually will. Some years are meant to be rebuilding years, when the program comes down from a high and sets up the future.
That was this year for the Oklahoma softball program. Losing a national championship core of Jessica Shults, Michelle Gascoigne, Brianna Turang and USA Softball Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts meant that this Sooner team would be plugging gaps and looking toward the future. A fourth consecutive Women’s College World Series appearance wasn’t an expectation for many watching the team.
And early on, the results seem to bear that out. The Sooners began the year ranked No. 2 but quickly fell to No. 23 as they struggled to a 5-4 start. There was even some worry in the locker room that OU may fall out of the top 25 since its inception in 1995.
“We were panicked that this team was going to be the team that gets knocked out of the top 25, and we would even tell them that to try to fire them up,” coach Patty Gasso said after the season ended last week.
OU’s longtime coach didn’t need to worry. Even after the program’s career home-run leader Lauren Chamberlain went out for a month with a back injury, the Sooners began to come into their own. First it was Kady Self developing into a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year before she too went out with an injury. Then it was Callie Parsons and Javen Henson stepping into the lineup.
Then after Chamberlain again went down in the last weekend of the season with a partially-torn PCL in her knee, Erin Miller stepped into the lineup and became a productive player for OU. Not that having just one good knee was enough to stop Chamberlain. She returned for OU in the regional tournament and performed up to her old standards before the season ended.