The Norman Transcript

April 28, 2009

Sooners still have plenty to play for

Jeff Johncox

Sunday was a pretty good day for the Oklahoma softball team.

The Sooners’ 4-2 victory at Missouri clinched at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time since 2000, and OU holds the tiebreaker now over the Tigers, so it clinched the Big 12 tournament’s No. 1 seed, too.

For the Sooners, it was a clutch performance that was a long time coming.

“A lot of us couldn’t sleep when we got home,” senior first baseman Samantha Ricketts said. “We were so excited. We had a good time on the bus on the way back, too. We called KJ 103 and they dedicated a song to us on Sunday Night Slow Jams.”

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione was waiting at Marita Hynes Field when the Sooners returned home from Columbia Sunday night, and there was a surprise party waiting in the locker room.

For the team’s three seniors, it was a goal they’ve been working toward for four seasons.

And it’s a big turnaround for a team that, two weeks ago, was looking like it wouldn’t even host an NCAA regional. When OU dropped its final game at Kansas April 11, a conference championship looked out of reach.

Then the Sooners downed Oklahoma State, and things changed. They swept Texas A&M;, got some help from some other conference teams, and then swept the first-place Tigers on their home field.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Ricketts said. “I think we really just turned things around to be a different team. The way we were playing in the middle of the season, that wasn’t what we wanted to be, what we were working toward. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just exciting to watch.”

Coach Patty Gasso knew what it felt like to win a conference championship before. She won the 2000 Big 12 title and went on to win a national championship. But five times in the last seven years, the Sooners have come up short, a few times by just one game.

“It’s a little bit of a relief,” Gasso said. “We were consistently being picked to finish at the top, or near the top, then we’d finish one game behind, or one game out. We were starting to get a little tired of the bridesmaid. It’s nice being at the front again, especially with this group.”

Before the season started, sophomore Katelyn Rouppet, junior Iver McDonald and senior Jessica Legendre all quit the team.

Then, four games into the year, senior Traci Dickenson left the team.

Then came arm problems to senior ace D.J. Mathis, and the freshman pitching tandem of Allee Allen and Kirsten Allen, which started out on a roll, struggled with Mathis on the bench nursing a sore throwing shoulder.

When the Sooners got swept at Texas, things were looking bleak.

“After that, you’d have thought our season was over, and we felt we had potentially lost D.J. for the season,” Gasso said. “That whole part of our season was a tough time. But our team persevered. That’s why I’m so proud of them and what they’ve accomplished. They’re figuring things out and have turned it around.”

And when they needed clutch performances and a strong stretch run, the Sooners got it.

Now they head to Oklahoma State tonight with a chance to clinch the Big 12 title all for themselves, no potential shared title with Missouri.

So, though they’ve already got the trophy coming and the tournament’s No. 1 seed locked up, the Sooners have plenty to play for at 7 p.m. in Stillwater.

“We’re really excited about going up there, and finishing the Bedlam series with a win,” Ricketts said. “We’re not overlooking OSU at all.”

So don’t expect a letdown. OU wants to finish the season off right.

And there’s some pride on the line, too. After all, it is Bedlam.

“We always know we’re going to have a battle with Oklahoma State,” Gasso said. “Worst-case scenario, we’ll be co-champions. But we don’t just want the tiebreaker. They want to finish this right. They don’t want to share.”

Jeff Johncox