Shannon Saile soaked in each pitch of her final opening weekend with Oklahoma.
The 5-foot-7, right-handed pitcher didn’t want any effort to go wasted. OU coach Patty Gasso could tell Saile had a different look about her during their season-opening tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“She's got a new, vibrant, excited, focused, kind of a boss-on-the-mound type of look,” Gasso said.
The Sooners need that look consistently from Saile with OU’s early-season injuries, Gasso says.
Saile and fellow senior Giselle Juarez offer the most experience in OU’s bullpen; albeit both made their OU debuts a year ago after transferring from Florida International and Arizona State, respectively.
Juarez, who was 28-4 with a 1.39 ERA in 2019, is currently recovering, though, from a bicep injury. The Sooner left-hander didn’t throw any during OU’s fall schedule but saw two innings of work in OU’s final game in Mexico.
Gasso says her senior from Glendale, Arizona didn’t want to be so much eased back into the circle with low stakes.
“She said, I want to get in the thick of things right away,” Gasso recalled.
So in a role reversal from a season ago, Juarez relieved Saile, who struck out eight through five scoreless innings for both teams. The Sooners tacked on their first runs in the sixth frame, winning 3-1 over BYU to close the trip.
OU has plenty of softball in front of it. The Sooners head to Tucson, Arizona for the Hillenbrand Invitational this weekend, where OU will play five games from Friday through Sunday.
Saile’s success will be vital to this early part of OU’s 2020 schedule, especially with redshirt freshman Brooke Vestal and freshman Macy McAdoo still breaking into their roles.
Saile is happy to be whatever OU needs her to be, however, following a 2019 season where she made 30 appearances and 10 starts.
“If they need me to have the ball for one game or one out, I'll do whatever they need me to do,” Saile said. “And I think that's been the biggest shift [for me] is just doing whatever they need me to do.”
Saile flashed often for the Sooners, picking up 10 wins in her debut OU season. She struck out 126 batters, allowed .147 opponent batting average and finished the year with a 1.42 ERA.
But Gasso says she could sense Saile wasn’t pleased with her first season in Norman.
“I think she had the opportunity to pitch,” Gasso said, “she made the most out of some and didn't make most out of other situations.”
Saile says she’s raised her focus with her final year underway. Although, she’s also enjoying the efforts from OU’s younger pitchers.
Vestal and McAdoo both made appearances in Mexico for the Sooners.
Seeing those two, along with the rest of the freshmen, was a joy for Saile, who’s assumed more of a leadership role for the group.
Gasso says Saile’s evolved incredibly since arriving to OU a season ago. And her final opening-weekend was a promising start to what OU needs out of her the rest of the way.
“What's really fun and exciting is that you're seeing Shannon have a new approach towards things and really on fire,” Gasso said. “As a senior, saying I'm going out with a bang, she had a really good weekend.”
Follow me @ByJoeBuettner