NORMAN, Okla. - Picking up its first Big 12 win, the No. 17 Oklahoma softball team now faces its toughest stretch of the conference season as it hits a seven-game road stretch before returning home for a series against No. 1 Texas.
The Sooners open the road stretch with a two-game series against No. 19 Nebraska this weekend in Lincoln, Neb. The Sooners and Huskers will battle in a 1 p.m. contest on Saturday followed by a 12 p.m. meeting on Sunday. Live stats of the series can be viewed on SoonerSports.com.
Following Nebraska, the Sooners will take on Oklahoma State in game one of the Bedlam series next Wednesday, April 15 at 7 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.
The Sooners will head out of town again for a two-game series against Texas A&M April 8-9, with both games being shown live on ESPN. The road stretch will end with a doubleheader against Baylor on April 10.
OU’s next radio broadcast will be game one of the Bedlam series next Wednesday at 7 p.m. Brian Brinkley (play-by-play) and sooner alum Kami Keiter (color) will be calling the game on KOCO (1520 AM).
The 19th-ranked Huskers (22-6, 0-2 Big 12) will be searching for their first Big 12 win of the year after playing a close series against No. 1 Texas in Austin last weekend. NU dropped a 2-0 game on Saturday and had the lead against the Horns before falling, 5-4, on Sunday.
Similar to the Sooners, NU ranks among the tops in the conference, offensively. The Huskers own a .302 clip on the year which ranks second in the Big 12 (OU is first). The Huskers have played the least amount of games of anybody in the conference, but their offensive statistics are comparable to others.
This weekend’s match up will feature a battle of two of the top leadoff batters in the country in NU’s Lizy Aumua and OU’s Norrelle Dickson. Aumua is hitting .462 for the year and is tough to catch on the base path as she is a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen bases this season. The power hitter for the Huskers is freshman first baseman Crystal Carwile. The clean up hitter has recorded a team-best 51 RBI and six home runs on the season.
In addition to its offensive success, the Huskers have also been solid in the circle with a combined 1.60 ERA, which ranks second in the league, while striking out close to nine batters a game. Freshman right-hander Molly Hill has been the key in NU’s wins as she owns a 12-1 mark with a staff-best 1.31 ERA and is holding the opposition to a .195 average. Junior Ashley DeBuhr adds another option for Nebraska as the right-hander owns a 1.80 ERA with a 9-5 record and leads the team with 123 strikeouts in 16 appearances.
The all-time series between OU and Nebraska has remained close in its 29-year history with the Huskers owning the slight 37-30 advantage. The Huskers have won five of the last six meetings between the schools, with Oklahoma splitting the series in Norman last year.
BIG 12 STARTS
The 2004 team was the lone OU squad to post an 0-4 mark in Big 12 conference starts. That squad finished with a 45-22-1 overall mark and fifth-place league finish, but also was the only Big 12 school to advance to the WCWS that year. The current Sooner team started off Big 12 play with a 1-3 mark.
The Sooners have opened Big 12 play with a rough start after going 1-3 in its first four conference games. However, with its first win in the league coming in its last game, OU looks to carry that momentum on the tough seven-game road stretch ahead.
Offensively, the Sooners are clicking on all cylinders as they lead the Big 12 in nine different offensive categories, including a conference-best .325 clip and 210 RBI through 36 games. The catalysts for the Sooner offense have been 2005 All-Americans Kristin Vesely (.500, 34 RBI) and Norrelle Dickson (.487, 15 stolen bases). Between the two of them, they rank in the top 5 of 10 different Big 12 offensive categories, including the top mark on six of those lists (conference rankings listed on pages 11-13).
The biggest challenge this season has been in the circle with the loss of four-time All-Big 12 performer Kami Keiter. As a unit, the staff owns a 3.19 ERA and a 5.75 ERA in league contests only. After a shaky start in the opening weekend of Big 12 play, the Sooner pitching staff bounced back with a better performance against Texas Tech. Overall, freshman lefty D.J. Mathis leads the team with 19 appearances and an 8-3 record with a 2.43 ERA. Fellow freshman Morgan Hudsonpillar (4-3) follows with a 2.62 ERA and a staff-best 43 strikeouts on the year.
TEXAS TECH LEFTOVERS
Oklahoma earned its first Big 12 win of the season after splitting a doubleheader Tuesday night with the Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-22, 1-3 Big 12) at the OU Softball Complex. Oklahoma won the second game of the twin bill, 7-3, but dropped the first game, 4-2.
Offensively, sophomore Savannah Long had a strong outing as she went 3-for-6 with two doubles and three RBI in both contests. Freshman Traci Dickenson was also impressive as she pounded her fifth home run of the season and went 2-for-5 with two RBI in both games.
After opening Big 12 play with an 0-2 start, the Sooners fell two spots to No. 17 in the USA Today/NFCA poll that was released March 29. In the recent ESPN.com/USA Softball poll (March 28), the Sooners fell to No. 18 in the weekly poll. The Sooners have been ranked in the top 25 of every NFCA poll since its inception, which spans 148 weeks long. OU and Arizona are the only programs to be ranked in the NFCA Top-25 every week of its existence.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TRACI DICKENSON
Freshman Traci Dickenson has made herself known in the first four games of Big 12 play as the third baseman is batting .500 (5-for-10) in league play with a team-best 12 total bases, five RBI, one double and two home runs. The nine-hole hitter, who has posted five homers on the season, owned a .283 average prior to the start of conference play, but has pushed her overall clip to .314 for the year.
Dickenson has also been a key component to the Sooner defense as she has aided in five of OU’s 16 double plays on the year while making impressive defensive stops at the hot corner.
The Sooners head to Lincoln with a perfect 3-0 road mark. Their first road test of the year came against UNLV in the UNLV Alexis Resort Kickoff Classic in OU’s third game of the season (Feb. 11) and resulted in a 5-3 OU victory. In its second road contest, the Sooners shut out Tulsa, 8-0, in five innings. The last road win came at the expense of North Texas as OU shut out the Mean Green, 7-0, in Denton, Texas.
BIG 12 HISTORY
OU has an all-time record of 141-42 (.770) in Big 12 games .... Oklahoma’s 141 wins and .770 winning percentage in league play is a conference best ... In the league’s 10-year history, OU has won a National Championship (2000), three regular season titles (1996, 1999, 2000) and two Big 12 tournament crowns (1996, 2001) ... No Big 12 school has been to the WCWS more than the Sooners (five times).
IT TAKES SEVEN TO WIN
The lucky number for OU this year has been seven as the Sooners are 15-0-1 when scoring seven or more runs in a game. Conversely, Oklahoma is 9-11 when not scoring seven plus runs. Additionally, the Sooners are 19-3 when scoring first.
Sophomore Savannah Long is the lone Sooner to start at the same position (second base) for the entire year and one of only three Sooners to start all 36 games this season. Senior Kristin Vesely has started 34 games in center field and two at catcher while junior Norrelle Dickson has 29 starts in left field and seven at third base.
SWITCHING IT UP
Oklahoma returns only four starters from last year’s Regional 14 Champion squad, but not all of the returnees will appear in the same position this spring. Sophomore Savannah Long was a consistent starter at shortstop in 2005, but has made the switch to the right side of the infield this season where she has seen all of her time at second base. Junior All-American (third team) Norrelle Dickson will use her speed mostly in left field this season after spending her first two seasons at shortstop and third base for the Sooners.
Junior Jamie Fox was a consistent starter in right field last season and has seen five starts in the same position, in addition to appearances in left field (seven starts), but most of her time has come in the designated player spot (18 starts). Senior Kristin Vesely was expected to be the lone consistency in the outfield where she has started most of her career. However, Vesely has recently made the move to catcher in the last two games.
Junior Norrelle Dickson is having another stellar season as the leadoff batter for the Sooners. In 2005, Dickson earned All-America honors after posting a .361 clip (70-189) while averaging 1.06 hits per game with 10 RBI total on the season.
The left fielder is even more impressive in 2006 as she owns a .487 clip (second in Big 12) while averaging 1.61 hits a game and has already surpassed last season’s RBI mark with 18 through 36 games in 2006. Below is a look at how Dickson stacks up against other top leadoff batters in the conference:
Notable streaks entering the Nebraska series:
219 - Consecutive games started by Kristin Vesely.
148 - Consecutive weeks since the inception of the NFCA Poll that OU has been ranked in the top-25.
12 - Consecutive seasons under Gasso that the Sooners have won their home opener
12 - Consecutive seasons of 40 or more wins, 11 under Gasso.
12 - Consecutive trips to the NCAA postseason
7 - Current hitting streak by Savannah Long, the longest of her career
7 - Current hitting streak by Samantha Ricketts
6 - Current hitting streak by Norrelle Dickson
6 - Consecutive Regional Championships
3 - Consecutive seasons Gasso has started a freshman at shortstop
SOONERS HEADLINING BIG 12 OFFENSE
OU’s Norrelle Dickson and Kristin Vesely are highlighting the Big 12’s offense so far this season. Vesely leads the Big 12 with a .500 clip while Dickson follows in second with a .487 overall season batting average. Dickson leads the league with 58 hits each on the season, a 1.61 per game average.
Additionally, Dickson and Vesely are the top two in the conference in runs scored. Dickson leads with 42 scored on the year while Vesely is second with 34 on the season.
A third note is that Vesely and Dickson are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in on base percentage for the conference. Vesely leads the Big 12 with a .563 mark while Dickson is second with a .554 clip.
Another stat is that Vesely ranks third in the conference with 34 RBI while freshman Samantha Ricketts holds the sixth spot with 29 RBI on the year.
The Sooners lead the Big 12 in doubles thanks to Vesely and sophomore Savannah Long. Vesely leads the conference with 11 two-baggers on the year while Long is right behind Vesely with 10 doubles hit on the season.
BIG 12 BEST - PART TWO
Along with individual leaders, the Sooners are also leading the conference in overall team batting with a .325 clip. The Sooners are also tops in on base percentage (.404), slugging percentage (.503), runs (229), hits (319), doubles (61), RBI (210) and base on balls (107).
BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS
Senior right fielder Amber Spaulding was named the Big 12’s Player of the Week on March 14 for games played March 6-12. Spaulding led the Sooners to a perfect 5-0 record and .529 (9-for-17) with 13 RBI, including a home run in four consecutive games.
Senior center fielder Kristin Vesely was named the Big 12’s Co-Player of the Week for games played Feb. 13-19. Vesely split the honor with Texas’ Tina Boutelle. Vesely put together a 12-for-16 outing at the plate in all six games with a .750 batting average, including nine RBI and 10 runs scored.
COACHES PICK OKLAHOMA FOURTH IN BIG 12
The University of Oklahoma softball team was picked to finish fourth by the Big 12 coaches in the annual preseason poll. The Sooners received 55 total votes while Texas A&M was tabbed the league favorite with 76 total points. The conference poll was based on a vote by each of the 10 conference head coaches who were not allowed to cast a vote for their own team in the process.
OU’s opponents might feel like they’re seeing double as the Sooners have successfully turned 16 double plays in 2006, a Big 12 best. Baylor owns the second-best margin in the Big 12 with 12 this season. In addition, Oklahoma leads all teams in the top-10 polls with 16 double plays.
The single season high for a Sooner squad is 22 set in 2004 after playing 68 games. With a 53-game regular season schedule, Oklahoma is on pace to break that mark in the regular season alone. Second baseman Savannah Long is the leading contributor with 12 double plays turned on the season.
Through 36 games this season, the Oklahoma freshmen class is making a strong impact on the Sooners this season. Currently, Traci Dickenson and Jessica Legendre are starting on the left side of the infield while Samantha Ricketts has started 31 games this season at either catcher or the designated player position. Pitchers Morgan Hudsonpillar and D.J. Mathis have seen plenty of time in the circle while utility player Jeannie Douglas has also seen time in the lineup.
The following are a few notes on the freshmen class:
-Ricketts is second on squad with 29 RBI and third on team with a .340 batting average and six home runs
-Dickenson has homered five times on the season and is hitting .500 in Big 12 play
-Mathis (2.43 ERA) and Hudsonpillar (2.62 ERA) lead the staff in ERA this season
-Shortstop Jessica Legendre has helped turn six of OU’s 16 double plays this year.
LUCKY NO. 3
In 2005, Norrelle Dickson (No. 1) and Kristin Vesely (No. 2) were one of the best 1-2 leadoff duos in the country as both earned All-America honors for their efforts. This year, Vesely has made the switch to the No. 3 spot in the lineup and the Sooners have benefited from her success there. Vesely has already surpassed her 2005 RBI total (30) and leads the conference in RBI (34) at the midway point in the season.
TWO OUT RALLY
Oklahoma is using a two-out rally to score most of its runs this season as the Sooners are batting .306 (928-of-320) and have driven in 41 percent (86-of-210) of their RBI with two outs. No player has shown this skill more than Kristin Vesely who has pounded 20 of her team-leading 34 RBI with two outs.
The Sooners have taken advantage of runners in scoring position as Oklahoma is hitting at a .570 clip with a runner at third and less than two outs. In addition, the threesome of Kristin Vesely (.556), Samantha Ricketts (.700) and Norrelle Dickson (.778) have been extremely successful with a runner on third and less than two outs.
EXTRA BASE HITS
OU has posted an extra-base hit in 33 of 36 games this season, including 27 games with two or more extra-base hits. The Sooners’ season high for extra-base hits this season is seven (4 HR, 3 2B) set against Indiana on Feb. 17 and Utah Valley State on March 11 (4 2B, 3 HR). Kristin Vesely leads the Sooners with 17 extra base hits on the year (11 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR) while Savannah Long follows with 14 on the season (10 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR).
WORTH NOTING ...
Kristin Vesely currently ranks in the top 10 on 11 different OU career charts (see page 7 ) ... Vesely currently shares the OU career best batting average ... With her double against Missouri (3/26), Vesely moved into fourth on the career doubles list ... Vesely only needs one more triple to move into No. 6 on the career triples list ... Entering the Nebraska series, Ricketts and Long each own seven-game hitting streaks while Dickson owns a six-game streak ... OU’s nine triples this season equals its final season total in 2005 ... Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in seven different offensive categories ... Through only 36 games, the Sooners are seven double plays shy of breaking the single season record (22) ... Freshman Jessica Legendre set a career high with two hits against North Texas (3/22) ... By starting against Washington (2/10), freshman Jessica Legendre became the third consecutive freshman to start the season at shortstop for head coach Patty Gasso ... In 2005, Savannah Long started before moving to second base ... In 2004, Norrelle Dickson started before moving to third base and to left field in 2006 ... Junior Amber Spaulding hit four home runs in four consecutive games (3/11-12) ... Junior Norrelle Dickson recorded the team’s longest hitting streak (eight games) of the season ... During that streak (3/5-3/15), Dickson batted .724 (21-of-29) with five extra-base hits (2 2B, 3 3B).
TWO SOONERS ON POY WATCH LIST
Oklahoma softball players Kristin Vesely and Norrelle Dickson have been named to the initial watch list for the 5th annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award, announced the Amateur Softball Association, the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States. It marks the second straight season that Dickson, a junior, has been named to the preseason watch list. Vesely was a semifinalist for the award last season, but was not on the initial 2005 preseason list.
The 2006 Pre-Season Watch List is comprised of 50 players representing 28 schools and 10 different NCAA Division I Conferences. USA Softball will announce its 25 finalists on April 5. A player does not have to appear on the initial watch list to be considered as a Top 25 finalist, but once the Top 25 is named the remaining finalists must be selected from that list.
Just days before the start of post-season play, a list of 10 finalists will be named and released on May 10. The three finalists will be announced May 31. The winner of the 2006 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award will be announced during the NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
VESELY DRAFTED IN NPF AND PFX TOUR
Senior Oklahoma softball player Kristin Vesely has been a hot commodity for professional softball organizations lately. Vesely was the fourth overall pick and the New England Riptide’s first overall selection in the National Pro Fast pitch draft held Feb. 15.
It marked the second professional organization to draft her as she was selected as the 14th pick overall in the PFX Tour inaugural draft. The tour is a professional fast-pitch softball tour founded to help promote the sport worldwide.
JENNIFER STEWART ON NCAA 25TH ANNIVERSARY BALLOT
Two-time All-American pitcher Jennifer Stewart (1999-2002), who guided the 2000 softball team to the squad’s first NCAA Championship, has been selected to the NCAA’s 25th Anniversary Team ballot.
With 36 athletes and five coaches selected to the ballot, fans will have the opportunity to vote online at www.ncaasports.com until April 1 for their 10-player and one coach 25th anniversary softball team.
The left-handed hurler was named the 2000 Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player after guiding Oklahoma to its first women’s national title with a 3-1 defeat of softball powerhouse UCLA. In addition to her two All-America accolades, Stewart was a three-time All-Midwest Region selection and a four-time All-Big 12 honoree.
SOONERS ANNOUNCE RADIO AND TV SCHEDULE
The Oklahoma softball team has finalized its radio and TV schedule for the 2006 season. The Sooners will appear on ESPN five different times as well as a local Cox broadcast for the Bedlam game in Norman.
Oklahoma’s radio broadcast schedule has also been finalized, which will feature 10 OU softball games that can be heard on the official flagship station for OU softball, KOKC 1520 AM and KRXO 107.7 FM. Two additional broadcasts will be available via the internet only. For the fourth consecutive season, Brian Brinkley will handle radio play-by-play duties for the Sooners.