|W - Taylor||3.1||6||3||3||1||4|
|L - Parker||3.2||3||4||3||2||3|
|S - N/A||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|OU - Aviu||4||1||2||2||0||0|
|USSSA - Cordes||3||2||2||4||1||2|
NORMAN – The defending national champion Oklahoma softball team had its stiffest test of the fall season Friday night and battled the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League down to the very final out in an 8-7 loss at Marita Hynes Field.
The Pride’s roster features several household names in the softball world, like Kelly Kretschman, Hannah Rogers and Sierra Romero. But the highlights Friday were former Sooner All-Americans Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley. Both were playing on their former home field for the first time since their careers ended in 2015.
“It felt great,” Chamberlain said of being back in Norman. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time ever since they got it worked out and the schedule fit. Just to be on the other side of it was weird, but to feel the crowd and the love from everybody was awesome.”
A sellout crowd of 1,517 was announced for the exhibition contest, showcasing the atmosphere both Chamberlain and Pendley remembered from their playing days.
“Unreal,” Pendley said. “For a game like this, that was cool. This is the biggest crowd we’ve had during our fall tour.”
Chamberlain said it had the feel of a postseason game.
“This is the crowd I remember,” she said. “The other stops have pulled in good crowds, but this was a proud moment to be able to show my (Pride) teammates how much the fans here care about softball.”
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso was also proud of the crowd.
“The atmosphere was buzzing and there were people standing out waiting to get in when I got here,” she said. “For it to happen in the fall, I’m pretty surprised by it, but when you can see the Pendley sisters, the Romero sisters, Lauren Chamberlain, Kelly Kretschman, Paige Parker and some of the best all on one field, these are smart fans.”
Entering the game, Gasso was looking for her team to gain valuable experience.
“We wanted to see how we would do against some really legit pitching and I wanted the new athletes to feel the atmosphere,” she explained. “I think we got a lot out of it besides the actual game, just the atmosphere and the experience they had against exceptional athletes. I think it really helped our team a lot.”
Fittingly, it was Chamberlain who opened the scoring as she homered in her first at-bat in the second inning against OU starter Paige Parker. One inning later, Cal alum Cheyenne Cordes hit the first of her two home runs with a two-run blast to left-center.
“I always feel competitive against Paige,” Chamberlain said. “Even when we used to practice against each other, it was never in a live-game situation so it was fun. We had chirped back and forth against one another, but I respect the heck out of her. She’s a great athlete, and is going to continue to do great things like she already has.”
For Parker, Friday was a chance to face some of the best the sport has to offer and improve her game.
“It was really tough,” she said. “Every pitch and every at-bat was a battle. They’re fantastic athletes. It was really difficult to get them out so it was a good challenge in the fall for us.”
For Gasso, Friday marked the first time having to coach against Chamberlain and Pendley.
“It was awful,” she jokingly said of having to face the duo. “When those two come up, it’s just a presence. I was thinking how glad I was that they were on our team because it’s hard to get them out. I just love seeing the best of the best so it was enjoyable seeing them out on the field.”
The lead grew to 5-0 in the top of the fourth when former Michigan star Lauren Sweet drilled a two-run double to center field. The Sooners had an answer, though, in the bottom of the frame.
Sophomore Caleigh Clifton walked to start the inning, while fellow sophomores Sydney Romero and Fale Aviu filled the bases on a fielder’s choice and single, respectively. Two batters later, junior Lea Wodach sent a long fly ball to left field for a sacrifice fly to put OU on the board.
Junior Kelsey Arnold was then hit by a pitch to load the bases back up. Senior Macey Hatfield stepped in next and blooped a single to shallow center field, driving in two runs to make it 5-3. Later in the inning with runners on second and third, freshman Nicole Mendes struck out, but the ball got away from Sweet behind the plate and Arnold was able to score, cutting the lead to 5-4.
The Pride extended its lead back to 8-4 in the top of the fifth when Cordes hit her second two-run homer of the game and an OU throwing error allowed another run to come across. Like in the previous inning, however, Oklahoma fought back in its next at-bats.
Freshman Alissa Dalton got it started when she beat out an infield single. Clifton then walked before Romero lined a double to left field, driving in Dalton and moving Clifton to third. Aviu batted next and lined a single over the head of the Pride left fielder, bringing in two runs and making it an 8-7 game.
“For it to happen in the fall, I was very pleased,” Gasso said of the team’s ability to come back. “It’s kind of their signature. This team is picking up where it left off, and they don’t like to lose. Although this is an exhibition game and you learn and get better, they’re still griped about the outcome and I like that.”
Oklahoma actually had a chance to tie the game or win it in the bottom of the seventh. Clifton and Romero singled to start the frame. Aviu flew out to right to advance Clifton to third and Romero later stole second to put the winning run in scoring position, but a strikeout and groundout ended the game.
The Sooners play their final games of the fall season on Nov. 6 with a doubleheader at Arkansas beginning at noon.