By Ben Johnson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Erica Sampson wasn’t being rude. She just wanted to make sure she didn’t hurt anyone.
The former Tahlequah standout made a subtle suggestion to Oklahoma’s bat girl during the final inning of the Sooners’ national championship-clinching 4-0 victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night.
“When there were two outs left, I was next to the bat girl,” Sampson recalled, “and I asked her to step down because I was going to kick my leg over the railing (of the dugout).”
OU pitcher Michelle Gascoigne then struck out Lexi Overstreet for the final and that’s where Sampson’s memory gets a little foggy.
“I don’t know if I blacked out,” she said. “I couldn’t remember anything in between running out (onto the field) and until getting off the dogpile.”
Sampson said her teammates have experienced the same phenomenon. They just can't remember exactly what happened once the final out was recorded at Hall of Fame Stadium.
Sampson and her teammates are still walking around in a daze.
“We’re still kind of in shock,” she said. “The coaches said it’ll be something that’ll change our lives. It’s just incredible.”
It was a year in the making for the Sooners, who had to watch Alabama celebrate a national championship on the same field in 2012.
“Last year, we were talking about what we were going to do afterward, like who was going to grab who after the game (against Alabama),” Sampson said. “This year, though, we weren’t going to be satisfied until we got there and won the title.”
Oklahoma polished off a 57-4 record and cemented itself among the elite to ever play the game. That was the goal.
“This year flew by,” Sampson said, “because we were on a mission to get to the title.”
For Sampson, winning the championship at softball’s mecca more than made up for coming up short of a high school crown her 2010 senior season.
“I had always been short of finishing it all — just like last year, Alabama took us to the final game of the year,” she said. “This year was just about going out there and being with everybody. You could just make eye contact with a teammate and start crying because it’s what we had our hearts set on.”
Her recently-completed sophomore season was an adjustment. As a freshman, Sampson started 27 games and played in 67 while collecting 97 at-bats, 18 hits, four home runs and 18 RBIs. This season, Sampson played in 45 games and only started one.
She's all right with it.
“It did take me a little while to accept that fact,” Sampson said of her playing time being reduced. “But we just made ‘21 strong’ our motto this year, and we had to be 21 locked in to pull it off.”
Sampson did score 15 runs during the season, including one in OU’s epic, come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Tennessee in Game 1 of the WCWS championship series.
This season “if my job was going to be (as) a runner every game,” Sampson said, “then I was going to run my best.
“There were no hard feelings for a girl playing ahead of me. I love them all the same. It’s all worth it in the end.”
Sampson, who can play the outfield and catch, will soon turn her attention toward next season. The Sooners will say goodbye to player of the year Keilani Ricketts and Gascoigne in the circle and catcher Jessica Shults and outfielder Brianna Turang.
Perhaps a spot will open up for Sampson.
“You just don’t know,” she said. “We’ll have an exit meeting, and (OU coach Patty Gasso) will tell us what she expects from us. It’ll just be a battle for a position during practice next season.”