NORMAN — Oklahoma struggled when junior slugger Lauren Chamberlain went out with a back injury three weeks ago. Already the leading home-run hitter in program history, Chamberlain’s steady demeanor grounded the offense and gave the Sooners an unparalleled punch at the plate.
After Chamberlain left the lineup, OU immediately struggled, dropping a pair of consecutive games to No. 24 Louisiana-Lafayette. OU struggled in those contests, scoring just one run in two games while giving up 10.
It was a bitter blow for a team already trying to integrate several new dimensions into its game, both behind the plate and in the circle. But the Sooners proved last weekend with a pair of wins over LSU that they have the ability to bounce back and win without run-ruling opponents. OU took a pair of one-run games over the Tigers in which neither team scored more than four runs.
It’s a positive sign for No. 16 OU (21-8), which opens Big 12 play this weekend on the road against a much-improved Iowa State squad that is 17-11 and coming off a win over Northern Illinois and also has an impressive victory over Louisville to its name.
It’s a critical first series for conference play, and the Sooners will look to again lean on the pitching staff that has developed throughout the season. At the top of that list is Kelsey Stevens, a transfer who has taken over more and more of the starting duties while putting together a 14-5 record.
But it’s been the surprise pitcher who has made the biggest impact recently. Shelby Pendley entered the season as the defending Big 12 Player of the Year for her work in the infield and at the plate. Nowhere on that resume was any work in the circle.
And yet that’s where she’s made the biggest impact lately. She takes a 13-game hitting streak to Ames but is also coming off her best game in the circle. When she entered Sunday’s game against LSU, the bases were loaded with the Tigers a hit away from taking the lead. Instead, she struck out two batters on her way to picking up her first career save by allowing no runs and just one hit through 2.2 innings.