NORMAN — Oklahoma enjoyed one of the nation’s most dominating pitching staffs a year ago, with seniors Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne leading the way to a national title. The pair was the best in school history and one of the best in NCAA history, winning 54 games and maintaining an ERA below 1.25.
There is just one downside to having such a talented pair of seniors: having to replace them after they graduate.
That’s the situation the Sooners find themselves in this season as they prepare to follow up their national title run a year ago. Ricketts and Gascoigne have moved on, and second-ranked Oklahoma will now turn to a talented but unproven pitching staff to move forward.
“You don’t replace them,” associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi said of the two pitchers who delivered the Sooners a title. “You look at the new athletes who have their own stories to tell, and I think it’s going to be a good one.”
Five stories, in fact. That’s how many pitchers Lombardi expects to rotate this season in the circle.
Heading the list is junior Georgia Casey, who has seen some experience for the Sooners in the circle in addition to her duties at second base. Sophomores Taylor Dewberry and Leslie Miller both had several appearances a year ago and figure to see regular starts. Also joining the staff are transfers Maggie Ham and Kelsey Stevens. Stevens comes to OU from Stanford, where a year ago she was named to the All-Pac 12 freshman team.
“We’re extremely excited for this year and to see the road we’ll take,” Lombardi said. “We’re anxious to see how this staff is going to perform. This isn’t going to be like last year where Keilani or Michelle would come out and throw a complete game. You’ll see us use two or three pitchers a game, where you have a starter, a middle reliever and a closer, kind of like baseball.”
For the players who will be handed the ball for the Sooners this season, that’s not a problem.
“We all know we’re going to play a part,” Casey said. “We’re going to help each other out.”
The Sooners, who are ranked No. 2 behind the Tennessee team they defeated in the Women’s College World Series final a year ago, open the season Friday with a doubleheader against Kentucky and Cal-State Fullerton at the Easton Tournament in California. It’s a new roster that will take the field, but one with plenty of experience and fresh off receiving the championship rings from their historic title run a year ago.
“It’s kind of been there, done that,” said captain and junior infielder Lauren Chamberlain, who hit 30 home runs a year ago. “But we have to have the discipline to not fall off. The goal is always to come back better than the year before.”
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