Oklahoma Softball Coach Gasso knew it was going to be a battle against Alabama

Oklahoma Softball Coach Gasso knew it was going to be a battle against Alabama

OKLAHOMA CITY-- Patty Gasso, the Oklahoma head softball coach, knew it.

“We’ll just go after it like we do every game,” she said after OU beat Alabama 4-1 in the opening game of the NCAA Championship Series.  “We haven’t won that game yet. Alabama is gonna fight back. We know it’s gonna be a battle.”

And it was as OU never got to win another game, losing two in a row to Alabama, which won its first NCAA national title and the first for the SEC with a 5-4 win over the Sooners to conclude the 2012 college softball season (June 6th). It was only the second time this season that the Sooners lost two games in a row to finish 54-10 and end the season on a losing note.

“It wasn’t our time. We know that,” Gasso said. “When it’s right, we’ll be back and it will be ours. We’ve learned a lot.”

When it’s right could be next season. The Sooners lose only one starter from this year’s team, Katie Norris, who is one of three seniors. The other seniors are part-time pitchers Allee Allen and Kirsten Allen.

Among the players returning are pitchers Keilani Ricketts, who fanned 457 batters in 292 innings and Michelle Gascoigne (16-1, 1.57 ERA) and catcher Jessica Shults. “It’s pretty exciting to know that we have so many people coming back,” Shults said. “We had a great group of seniors that brought a lot of leadership, but we’re going to be seniors next year, too. I feel blessed to be a part of this team and have my best friends with me.”

Shults  had an outstanding season, batting .379 with 20 homers and 65 runs batted in and formed one-third of one of the nation’s top 3-4-5 combinations in the country  with Ricketts (.395, 17 homers and 49 RBI) and freshman sensation Laura Chamberlain (.357, 30 homers and 78 RBI).

In addition, also returning are Brianna Turang (.356, 13 stolen bases), Destinee Martinez (.349, 18 stolen bases), Georgia Casey (.346, 10 home runs, 42 RBIs), Erica Sampson, Javen Henson and Jessica Vest. That means OU returns about 90 percent of a lineup that finished the season with a .316 team batting average with a .410 on-base percentage and a .547 slugging percentage.

This will be a veteran team that could be even better than this year’s team. It will have another year of maturity and experience and will want to finish what ended in the rain and in dramatic fashion at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

This is a team with outstanding players who, according to Gasso, “get it” and understand what it takes to win a Big 12 title or a national championship. The Sooners understand the meaning of teamwork and sacrifice and were all on the same page this season in trying to win the school’s second national softball championship. The goal a year ago was just to qualify for the WCWS. The goal this year was to win the national championship. The Sooners came up short, but the goal will be the same next year and OU figures to leave no stone unturned to reach it.

“This has just been an unbelievable journey,” Gasso said. “Although we didn’t get what we wanted, it’s an unbelievable journey that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

While the Sooners have a good chance to make another run at the national title, Alabama loses six seniors, but does have standout pitcher and MOP of the WCWS, Jackie Traina, returning.  Graduating for Alabama are Jazlyn Lunceford, Jennifer Fenton, Kendall Dawson, Cassie Reilly-Boccia, Amanda Locke, all starters, and Olivia Gibson, a reserve catcher.

For Alabama it was the school’s fourth NCAA national title this season and third by a women’s team. As expected, hundreds of fans greeted the Alabama team Thursday, June 7th, at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport following the game, which was delayed twice by rain, including a 13 minute delay before the fourth inning. That delay turned the game around with the momentum shifting from OU to Alabama after OU had taken an early 3-0 lead on homers by Ricketts and Chamberlain.

"It did take the momentum away," Gasso said of the mid-game delay. "It's hard to come back and get refocused. It's just the way it happened."

It was what it was and another college softball season was in the record books.