Oklahoma Softball; Looking for a Difference Maker

Oklahoma College Softball Keilani Ricketts

Oklahoma Softball; Looking for a Difference Maker

Coaches, no matter what the sport, look for difference makers. LeBron James was a difference maker for the NBA champion Miami Heat last year. Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder and the other teams who were challenging the Heat to win the NBA championship.

And it’s that way in college or amateur softball. Coaches like to have a player who can make a difference, either on defense or offense or hopefully in both categories.  When the difference maker is good at both defense and offense that’s a plus. Lisa Fernandez was a difference maker her entire career and the results speak for themselves.

Who will be the difference maker for the University of Oklahoma softball team this season, Keilani Ricketts, Jessica Shults, Lauren Chamberlain or Shelby Pendley? The first three players are All-Americans returning for Head Coach Patty Gasso, who is in her 19th season. Pendley isn’t a returning player. She transferred from the University of Arizona after playing fall ball. She had a change of heart and decided to leave the Wildcats for personal reasons, leaving Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea with a big void.

Pendley, however, isn’t just another player. Last season, as a freshman, she was one of three Wildcats to play every game. She batted .331 and hit a team best 19 homers—two off the Arizona freshman record—and had 55 RBIs while starting 57 games at shortstop.  She also led the team in slugging percentage (.703). She did all that while coming back from a torn ACL in the summer and battling a lower back injury late in the season. Candrea said Pendley could be as good a player he’s ever had at shortstop. She earned first team All-Pac-12 honors as a freshman.

Pendley said that she has enjoyed her experience since joining the OU roster before the spring semester. She can play DP, third or shortstop for the Sooners.  "The experience has been great," she said. "The atmosphere, not just on campus, but also off campus has been great. I love Oklahoma, the campus, the coaches, the girls; I just love this whole atmosphere. It's very family-oriented, and that's what I like."

After this weekend games, OU was undefeated (10-0) having outscored its opposition, 82-8, playing in two tourneys. Its most recent series of wins was in the Campbell Carter Classic in San Diego, Calif. OU was extended to extra inning for the first time this year before beating Notre Dame, 7-5, in nine innings. And Pendley? Well, she was 3-for-5 and is now batting .312 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

Oklahoma figures to be one of the best teams this college season. It was already a very good team even before Pendley arrived. With her arrival, there is no telling how far the Sooners can go this year. They went far last year---losing in the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series. And the Sooners haven’t forgotten about the championship game last year, but that was last year and their impressive start this year should tell their opposition that the Sooners are determined more than ever to succeed in achieving their goal of a national championship. And if Pendley helps them achieve that goal, there is nothing wrong with that. Last year, she played in the Super Regional in Norman when the Sooners took two straight from the Wildcats to advance to the World Series. Only time will  tell who will be the difference maker for the Sooners this year, but don’t bet against Pendley.