NORMAN, Okla. - The No. 15 Oklahoma softball team begins a new portion of the season this weekend - Big 12 Conference play. The Sooners will host Missouri in a two-game series Saturday and Sunday at the OU Softball Complex. OU will kick off Big 12 play with a 1 p.m. meeting against the Tigers on Saturday and close out the series with a 12 p.m. contest on Sunday.
TICKETS AND PROMOTIONS
Seats to this weekend’s games are available for $10 (reserved), $7 (adult general admission), $5 (youth general admission) and $3 (groups of ten or more -must be ordered 24 hrs in advance) at the OU Athletics Ticket Office (800-456-4668) and at SoonerSports.com. The gates will open an hour and a half before game time.
The first 250 fans through the gates on Saturday will receive a complimentary 2006 team photo and the team will host a post-game autograph session.
Video coverage of Saturday’s and Sunday’s games in the series can be seen live on the O-Zone. Additionally, live stats for the Missouri series can be viewed on SoonerSports.com.
OU will have only one day off before facing Texas Tech in a doubleheader on Tuesday, March 28 at the OU Softball Complex. The first game of the twin bill will begin at 5 p.m. with the second game slated for 7 p.m.
Despite playing one of the smallest non-conference schedules, Missouri (15-11) is among the better teams in the conference, offensively. MU posts an overall clip of .274 on the year and has already pounded 26 home runs in 2006.
Headlining Missouri’s offensive power are pitcher Jen Bruck (.362) and sophomore outfielder Micaela Minner (.347), who leads MU with 29 RBI and six home runs on the year. Bruck is right behind her with 11 extra base hits, including five home runs, and a perfect 6-for-6 in stolen bases.
In addition to her skills with the bat, Bruck has been a force in the circle as well. The sophomore right-hander has appeared in 22 of MU’s 26 games and owns a record of 13-8 and a 2.65 ERA.
Bruck and Miner have faced the Sooners in minimal amounts as both are sophomores this season. In OU’s two-game sweep over the Tigers last season in Columbia, Miner went 1-for-4 with two walks in both games combined. The Sooners saw Bruck throw the final two innings in the first game of last year’s series as she allowed two runs, one unearned, on three hits with two strikeouts.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series against the Tigers, 37-30, including a 15-5 advantage since the inception of the Big 12. OU swept the series in Columbia last year (8-3, 6-4) and owns a 4-1 mark at home against the Tigers since 1996 (the first year of the Big 12).
BIG 12 OPENERS
The Sooners own an impressive 8-2 mark in Big 12 conference openers, including a perfect 1-0 mark against Missouri in the opening weekend of league play. In its 31-year history, OU is 17- 12 in conference openers. Oklahoma did not play in a conference from 1975-1976.
After a rigorous non-conference season where Oklahoma played nine opponents ranked in the top-25, the Sooners are prepared for Big 12 Conference play. Oklahoma had its final tune up this past Wednesday as it faced regional foe North Texas for the third time this season and shut the Mean Green out, 7-0.
Offensively, the Sooners are on a roll as they lead the Big 12 in seven different offensive categories, including a conference-best .323 clip and 191 RBI through 32 games. The catalysts for the Sooner offense have been 2005 All-Americans Kristin Vesely (.500, 32 RBI) and Norrelle Dickson (.476, 13 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).
In the circle, Oklahoma has faced its toughest challenge with the loss of four-time All-Big 12 performer Kami Keiter. However, freshman hurlers D.J. Mathis and Morgan Hudsonpillar have been a bright spot for the Sooners. Mathis, a lefty, owns a staff-best 1.53 ERA with a 7-1 overall mark while rookie pitcher Hudsonpillar (4-2) is second on the staff with a 2.32 ERA and leads the team with 33 strikeouts on the year.
NORTH TEXAS LEFTOVERS
Led by Nicole Denes’ three-hit shut out, OU claimed its third victory over North Texas this season in Denton, Texas, where the temperatures dipped into the low 40s this past Wednesday. Denes was impressive in her third complete game of the season as she allowed no runs on three hits while striking out five Mean Green batters. The senior hurler improved to 6-3 on the season with her first shut out of the year.
Offensively, eight Sooners in the lineup recorded a hit as Vesely led the way with a 2-for-4 performance and two RBI. Additionally, freshman Samantha Ricketts also went 2-for-4 and added her sixth double of the season. Legendre had the best outing of her career with two hits against UNT.
PLAYER TO WATCH: SAVANNAH LONG
Currently on a three-game hitting streak, second baseman Savannah Long has provided the Sooners with a strong offensive presence in addition to her outstanding defense at second base.
The sophomore is hitting .400 through the last three games and is only one double shy of the current Big 12 top mark (9). Long, who as an outstanding arm, has been a part of 12 of OU’s 16 double plays.
The Sooners currently sit at No. 15 in the USA Today/NFCA poll that was released March 22. In the recent ESPN.com/USA Softball poll (March 21), the Sooners fell two spots to No. 17 in the weekly poll. The Sooners have been ranked in the top 25 of every NFCA poll since its inception, which spans 147 weeks long. OU and Arizona are the only programs to be ranked in the NFCA Top-25 every week of its existence.
With its win over North Texas, the Sooners improved to a perfect 3-0 in road contests this season. 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.
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 center fielder is even more impressive in 2006 as she owns a .480 clip (third in Big 12) while averaging 1.6 hits a game and has already surpassed last season’s RBI mark with 16 through 32 games in 2006. Below is a look at how Dickson stacks up against other top leadoff batters in the conference:
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 10 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.
Though 32 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 29 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 27 RBI and third on team with a .345 batting average
-Dickenson is one of seven Sooners to hit multiple home runs this season
-Mathis (1.53 ERA) and Hudsonpillar (2.32 ERA) lead the staff in ERA this season
-Mathis hasn’t given up an earned run in her last three appearances and leads the staff with a 7-1 overall mark
-Shortstop Jessica Legendre had a career night against North Texas with two hits and one RBI
It didn’t take long, but feisty left-handed freshman hurler D.J. Mathis has adjusted to the college game. In the second half of the non-conference season, the rookie has come on as the Sooners’ top hurler as she leads the team with a 1.53 ERA and a 7-1 overall record in the circle. Below is a comparison of her first 16 games in a Sooner uniform to the last 16 of the non-conference season:
SOONERS HEADLINING BIG 12 OFFENSE
OU’s Norrelle Dickson and Kristin Vesely are highlighting the Big 12’s offense so far this season. Vesely shares the league’s best batting average (.500) with Nebraska’s Lizzy Aumua, while Dickson is third with a .476 clip.
Dickson and Vesely lead the league with 50 hits on the season, a 1.58 per game average.
Additionally, Dickson, Vesely and Amber Spaulding, a junior right fielder, are the top three in the conference in runs scored. Dickson leads with 39 scored on the year while Vesely is second with 31 on the season and Spaulding follows with 30 on the year (third in the league).
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 .545 clip.
Another stat is that Vesely ranks first in the conference with 32 RBI while freshman Samantha Ricketts holds the sixth spot with 27 RBI on the year.
The Sooners lead the Big 12 in doubles thanks to Vesely and sophomore Savannah Long. Vesely shares the conference lead with nine two-baggers on the year while Long is right behind Vesely with 8 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 .323 clip. The Sooners are also tops in on base percentage (.405), slugging percentage (.502), runs (208), hits (280), doubles (53), RBI (191) and base on balls (100).
TWO OUT RALLY
Oklahoma is using a two-out rally to score most of its runs this season as the Sooners are batting .307 (86-of-280) and have driven in 43 percent (82 of 191) of their RBI with two outs. No player has shown this skill more than Kristin Vesely who has pounded 19 of her team-leading 32 RBI with two outs.
The Sooners have taken advantage of runners in scoring position as Oklahoma is hitting at a .588 clip with a runner at third and less than two outs. In addition, the duo of Norrelle Dickson (.778), Kristin Vesely (.556) are key components in advancing runners this season.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ’D
The Sooners are second in the Big 12 with a .973 fielding percentage with 25 errors committed this season despite starting three freshmen in the infield. OU’s 25 errors are the second-lowest in the Big 12 despite 620 put outs (second most in the Big 12). Nebraska owns the least amount of errors with 16, but has only recorded 467 put outs on the year.
EXTRA BASE HITS
OU has posted an extra-base hit in 29 of 32 games this season, including 23 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 14 extra base hits on the year (9 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR) while Amber Spaulding follows with 13 on the season (5 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR).
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 (32) at the midway point in the season.
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.
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.
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.
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. It marks Spaulding’s first league weekly accolade. Spaulding led the Sooners to a perfect 5-0 record this past week. She hit .529 (9-for-17) with 13 RBI, including a home run in four consecutive games. The Fontana, Calif. native also recorded a 1.353 slugging percentage and a .600 on-base percentage.
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.
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.
Kristin Vesely currently ranks in the top 10 on 11 different OU career charts (see page 7 ) ... Vesely needs one more double to move into No. 4 on the all-time doubles chart ... Vesely only needs one more triple to move into No. 6 on the career triples list ... 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 32 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 owns 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).
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.