NORMAN — Let the fun begin.
That’s coach Patty Gasso’s stance as Oklahoma prepares to defend its national title at the Women’s College World Series this week, beginning with an 8:30 game tonight against Alabama.
“The hard part, to me, is over, and the fun part begins,” she said at Wednesday’s press conference. “The hard part is the regional and super regional with so much at stake, and once you get here it’s, ‘OK, let’s go.’”
OU’s road to the World Series this year was most certainly work. The Sooners (50-11) began the season just 5-4 as they struggled to find their identity. For a team that won the 2013 title on the back of a dominant lineup, they scored just six runs in the four losses, including a 5-4 loss to a Kentucky team that, like OU, is playing in this week’s Women’s College World Series. The Sooners fell to No. 23 in the national polls, the closest they’ve come to falling out of the poll since its inception in 1995.
But OU turned things around, thanks to the emergence of pitcher Kelsey Stevens as a true ace, and to the re-emergence of Shelby Pendley, who struggled through the postseason a year ago but returned to form in the regular season in 2014 and has kept up her production in the postseason. Perhaps most important were Pendley’s contributions in the circle, a position she hadn’t played since high school but was effective at in limited innings this season.
Things didn’t get any easier for OU once the tournament began. The Sooners needed some late heroics and a timely Texas A&M error to secure the first game against the Aggies in the regional, and they needed a third game to defeat last year’s NCAA title opponent Tennessee in the supers after the Volunteers shut out the Sooners in the second game of the season.