NORMAN — There may still be snow on the ground at Oklahoma’s campus, but the Sooners will still be playing softball.
Except they’ll do so in much warmer weather. Second-ranked Oklahoma opens its season today in Fullerton, Calif., at the Easton Tournament. The Sooners have a double-header against Kentucky and Cal-State Fullerton, and will also take on several other teams including Pittsburgh at the event.
It’s an early season test for OU, which is bringing a roster that has plenty of experience but is also young in places. Most notably, the Sooners have an all-new pitching staff after the loss of graduated seniors Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne.
Sophomore Kelsey Stevens figures to be the early leader among a pitching committee with no seniors.
The Stanford transfer earned freshman All-Pac 12 honors a year ago and has drawn praise from coaches in the preseason.
“Kelsey has the most experience,” associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi said. “She throws hard and has good movement.”
While Stevens may be the most proven on the staff, she’s far from the only talent. Junior Georgia Casey has thrown some for OU in the past and will do so again this year when she’s not at second base. Also on the staff are sophomores Taylor Dewberry and Leslie Miller, as well as junior Maggie Ham.
“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.”
Not all of that responsibility falls on the pitchers. The rest of the team understands the importance of playing solid defense behind the circle.
“We know it’s going to be a team effort,” said center-fielder Destinee Martinez, who spent the summer playing with the U.S. national team. “We realize we have to work a lot harder. Practices have been more intense, and we’re ready to pick up where we left off.
The Sooners know there will be some growing pains this season as the pitching staff grows and improve as the season progresses. What they are most interested in is setting a tone for the new group in the first few weeks as they defend their national title.
“They’re going to make mistakes, and they have to understand that’s okay,” coach Patty Gasso said. “This team can fight back from mistakes. But our expectations are the same they are every year, to go out and win a national championship. We have the majority back and that’s a lot of pressure, but they’ve shown they can handle it pretty well.”
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