NORMAN — On the first day Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso thought it was better to go with Michelle Gascoigne over Keilani Ricketts against Arkansas’ bats, the Sooners beat the Razorbacks by five runs.
A day later Gasso had the same thought. OU prevailed by 13 runs.
How does one beat the Sooners? Well, the first order of business has to be getting Ricketts out of the circle or getting to her in it, but lot of good it did the Razorbacks.
That’s the takeaway from Marita Hynes Field, site of the Norman Regional, where OU blasted Arkansas 14-1 Sunday.
Ricketts is the nation’s best pitcher but she wasn’t very good this past weekend after blanking Marist Friday.
Sunday, she gave up a single and double to the first two hitters she faced before walking the bases loaded only to escape unscathed.
She hit a batter in the second inning and walked two more in the third before dialing up a two-ball, no-strike count on Andrea Sullivan, the moment she departed and Gascoigne relieved.
It didn’t matter.
Though Ricketts was more dominant against the Big 12, Gascoigne’s 0.91 earned run average over the length of the regular season was better than Ricketts’ 1.10.
If Gascoigne has long been OU’s other pitcher, she has come of age in 2013, nailing down career-high wins (17), innings pitched (123 1/3) and the nation’s second-best ERA.
“It’s really exciting to know that you’ve got somebody like Michelle coming into a game who’s fearless and you can put her into any situation,” Gasso said.
But that’s only a part of why OU is so hard to beat. There’s more.
To be sure, Arkansas hurt itself Sunday. The Sooners’ five-run third inning was made possible by Amanda Geile dropping what should have been the third out in right field. Two batters later, Lauren Chamberlain hit a tape-measure three-run home run over left-center field.
Now, pretend Geile made the catch and Chamberlain never came to the plate that inning. Heck, pretend Chamberlain struck out when she would have come to the plate in the fourth.
Do that and you’d still have to deal with conference player of the year Shelby Pendley, who led off the fourth inning with a line shot home run to right-center field that was about four feet taller than the fence from the moment it left the bat to the moment it left the diamond.
Or, pretend Pendley never even transferred from Arizona.
If she never transferred, maybe Javen Henson gets many more than 41 at-bats this season and maybe she finds a rhythm and is hitting north of .300 than the .146 number she entered the regional carrying. It all seemed plenty possible Sunday, when Henson came off the bench to go 2 for 2 with a home run and two RBIs.
All of which is to say nothing of Brianna Turang, who’s hitting over .400 from the nine-hole, and nothing of Destinee Martinez, who’s hitting .364 in the seven-hole.
The Sooners come at you in waves and nobody should understand that any better than Arkansas.
“They’re awfully tough,” Arkansas coach Mike Larabee said. “They’ve got a great lineup.”
Chamberlain, who has hit a home run virtually every other game this season, slugging better than 1.000 and reaching base better than six of every 10 times she steps to the plate, was asked if it occurs to her just how hard her team is to beat?
“I think we know how strong the rest of our teammates are,” she said. “Like, for me, I know Georgia (Casey) is behind me and I know that Bri (Turang) is in front of me. I think we know that and I think we feed off each other well.”
There’s always a little more to it, but a great pitcher can go win you a World Series just like a great netminder can win you a Stanley Cup, and the Sooners have that pitcher in Ricketts (and may have that pitcher in Gascoigne, too).
Only, like Sunday, she doesn’t have to be dominant for OU to be dominant. And even on the day Ricketts is mortal and Chamberlain and Pendley are, too, there’s still another wave in crimson and cream capable of doing the job.
“You see a team that’s talented,” Gasso said, “but from our point of view, we want you to see a team that’s well prepared.”
That, too, one through nine, in the field, off the bench and in the circle, too.
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