NORMAN, Okla. - Coming off an impressive 8-0 shut out of Tulsa Wednesday night, the No. 14 Oklahoma softball team will bring its momentum back to Norman for its final home tournament of the season, the OU/Worth Invitational set for March 11-12 at the OU Softball Complex.
Oklahoma will open tourney action on Saturday afternoon with a 2:30 p.m. contest against North Texas followed by a 4:45 p.m. game against Utah Valley State. In other Saturday action, North Texas and Utah Valley State will face off in the first game of the day, beginning at 12:15 p.m.
The Sooners and Wolverines will meet again on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. followed by a match up against the Mean Green at 2:30 p.m. to round out tournament play. Utah Valley State and North Texas will again square off in the early game on Sunday, which starts at 10 a.m.
Live stats for all tournament games will available on SoonerSports.com.
SCOUTING NORTH TEXAS
The Mean Green enter the OU/Worth Invitational with a 9-10 overall mark. OU and UNT have only played one similar opponent this season, which is Tulsa. The Sooners run-ruled the Golden Hurricane in a five-inning 8-0 shutout this past Wednesday while North Texas dropped a 7-2 contest to TU a month ago.
UNT owns the lowest batting average (.224) of the three teams in the tournament, but that has not stopped junior left fielder Susan Waters who is batting .344 with five home runs and seven doubles on the season.
Right-handed pitcher Kristina Fowler, who also owns a .273 batting average, leads the staff with a 7-4 overall mark and a 3.76 ERA.
SCOUTING UTAH VALLEY STATE
Utah Valley State (5-10) will be searching for its first road win of the season against the Sooners as the Wolverines own an 0-6 mark in away games. Utah Valley State is currently riding a seven-game losing streak after dropping four losses to New Mexico, two to No. 15 Washington and one to Santa Clara.
Leadoff batter Chris Jimenez is leading the offensive charge as the senior left fielder is batting .383 with a team-leading 18 hits while senior shortstop Rachel Hartgrove (.372) owns 14 RBI on the season with four home runs. Utah Valley State is also quick on the base path as it has stolen 18 of 23 bases this season.
Defensively, the Wolverine pitching staff owns a combined 5.00 ERA. Junior pitcher Jackie Roberts owns a team-best 2.56 ERA and a 4-3 record in nine appearances in the circle. Roberts has averaged 3.9 strikeouts in eight starts this year.
North Texas and Oklahoma’s two meetings this weekend will be the first two of four contests between the programs this year. Oklahoma will play in Denton against the Mean Green on March 22 and UNT will return the favor on OU’s senior night May 3. In the series history, the two schools have only met seven times with Oklahoma winning every game, including the last meeting, 11-3, in Norman.
Utah Valley State and Oklahoma will be meeting for the first time in series history.
TULSA IN REWIND
Led by freshman pitcher D.J. Mathis’ one-hit shutout and home runs by Amber Spaulding and Traci Dickenson, the No. 14 Oklahoma softball team (16-6-1) handed Tulsa (11-6) an 8-0 run-rule loss in five innings this past Wednesday night in Tulsa. It marked the Sooners’ first win at the Donna J. Hardesty Softball Complex since 2003.
Mathis (3-1) picked up her third win of the season with her most impressive performance of the year after giving up only one hit and no runs while striking out a career-high five batters. The lefty leads the five-member pitching staff with a 1.91 ERA.
Offensively, Norrelle Dickson led the lineup with a 3-for-3 performance while Spaulding added three RBI. Sophomore Savannah Long also contributed two RBI on a 2-for-2 performance.
The Sooners will hit the road for their final tournament of the regular season as they head to the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., slated for March 15-19. Oklahoma will open tournament play with a 6:30 p.m. (CST) contest on Wednesday, March 15 against Utah. On Thursday, Oklahoma will face No. 7 Alabama at 3:30 p.m. and round out pool play with a 3:30 p.m. game against No. 25 Fresno State on Friday. The tournament portion of the Classic will begin on Saturday and last through Sunday. OU’s opponents will be determined on its record in pool play.
After its three losses this past week, the Sooners dropped out of their top-10 ranking and fell four spots to No. 14 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, released March 7. The Sooners also sit at No. 14 in the USA Today/NFCA poll that was released March 8. The Sooners have been ranked in the top 25 of every NFCA poll since its inception, which spans 146 weeks long. OU and Arizona are the only programs to be ranked in the NFCA Top-25 every week of its existence.
OU’s opponents so far this season might feel like they’re seeing double as the Sooners have successfully turned 13 double plays in 2006, a Big 12 best. Baylor owns the second-best margin in the Big 12 with nine this season, but every other Big 12 school has five or less. In addition, Oklahoma leads all teams in the top-10 polls with 13 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 10 double plays turned on the season.
Though 23 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 18 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, Dickenson and Legendre have helped turn 12 of OU’s 13 double plays this season
-Ricketts is second on squad with 16 RBI
-Dickenson is one of four Sooners to hit multiple home runs this season
-Mathis (1.91 ERA) and Hudsonpillar (2.48 ERA) lead the staff in ERA this season
-Mathis has thrown a staff-best three complete games
-Shortstop Jessica Legendre had clutch hits in the final inning of two come-from-behind victories at the UNLV Classic
Feisty left-handed freshman hurler D.J. Mathis has been a force in the circle the past week. The rookie is coming off her third win of the season, which was a one-hit shutout against Tulsa where she struck out a season-high five batters in the 8-0 Sooner victory. In the last three games she has started (No. 19 LSU, Troy and Tulsa), Mathis has only allowed one earned run on 10 hits while striking out nine batters and only allowing two walks in 16.2 innings of work. Her ERA in the past three contests amounts to an impressive 0.42.
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 time at second base. Junior All-American (third team) Norrelle Dickson will use her speed 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 time in the same position, in addition to a few appearances in left field as well as the designated player. Providing stability in center field will be 2005 second team All-American Kristin Vesely, a four-year starter in the outfield.
Swiping 28 of 32 bases this season, Oklahoma owns the Big 12’s best stolen base percentage (.875). Junior Norrelle Dickson leads the squad with nine stolen bases on nine attempts (fifth in the Big 12) while junior Amber Spaulding is next with a perfect 6-for-6 in stolen bases, along with Kristin Vesely’s 6-for-6.
TWO OUT RALLY
Oklahoma is using a two-out rally to score most of its runs this season as the Sooners are batting .301 (59-for-196) and have driven in 45 percent (56 of 124) of their RBI with two outs. No player has shown this skill more than Kristin Vesely who has pounded 13 of her team-leading 20 RBI with two outs.
The Sooners have taken advantage of runners in scoring position as Oklahoma is hitting at a .577 clip with a runner at third and less than two outs. In addition, the trio of Norrelle Dickson (.529), Kristin Vesely (.520) and Jamie Fox (.429) are a combined .490 from the plate with runners in scoring position.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ’D
The Sooners are leading the Big 12 with a .983 fielding percentage with only 11 errors committed this season despite starting three freshmen in the infield. OU’s 11 errors are the second-lowest in the Big 12 despite 443 put outs. Nebraska owns the least amount of errors with eight, but has only recorded 279 put outs on the year.
EXTRA BASE HITS
OU has posted an extra-base hit in 21 of 23 games this season, including 17 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. Kristin Vesely (5 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR) and Savannah Long (7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR) lead the squad with nine extra-base hits each.
Notable streaks entering the Norman Residence Inn Invitational:
207 - Consecutive games started by Kristin Vesely.
146 - 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
9 - Consecutive games the Sooners have gone without committing an error
6 - Consecutive Regional Championships
3 - Current hitting streak for Mariee Mena
3 - Consecutive seasons Gasso has started a freshman at shortstop
VESELY’S ALL-AROUND OFFENSE
Kristin Vesely, a 2005 All-American, ranks among the best in the Big 12, offensively. The senior center fielder shares the league-best 29 hits with three others. In other offensive categories she ranks second in triples (3), fourth in runs scored (20) and fifth in RBI (20).
Additionally, she ranks eighth in the conference in total bases, averaging 1.95 per game and fifth in the league in on base percentage with a .538 average.
BIG 12 BEST - PART TWO
Fellow All-American Norrelle Dickson also sits among the elite in the Big 12 as she leads the conference in runs scored (1.09 per game) and shares with Vesely a league-best 29 hits.
In other categories, Dickson owns a .512 on base percentage (sixth in the Big 12) and sits at fifth in the conference with 9-of-9 stolen bases on the year.
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.
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.
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.
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.