FULLERTON, Calif. - Owning a six-game winning streak, the No. 14 Oklahoma softball team will take its momentum to Fullerton, Calif., this week for its final regular season tournament and possibly its toughest non-conference stretch of the season. The Sooners are headed to the Judi Garman Classic, previously the Kia Classic, and are slated to play March 15-19. The 16-team tournament features 10 squads ranked in the top-25.
OU opens tourney action with a 6:30 p.m. (CST) contest against Utah on Wednesday, March 15 and follows that with a 3:30 p.m. game against No. 7 Alabama on Thursday. Rounding out pool play, the Sooners will have a rematch with No. 25 Fresno State on Friday in another 3:30 p.m. contest. Oklahoma dropped a tough 2-4 loss to the Bulldogs two weeks ago in the Palm Springs Classic.
Following pool play, the Sooners will head to the tournament portion of the Classic on Saturday and Sunday. OU’s match ups and game times will be determined upon pool play. The schools in the other three pools include Louisiana-Lafayette, Washington, Texas and Michigan in one pool along with Florida State, Notre Dame, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State in another. The fourth and final pool includes Arizona, UNLV, Cal State Northridge and Texas A&M.
OU/WORTH INVITATIONAL IN REWIND
The offense was hitting on all cylinders as Oklahoma swept action at the OU/Worth Invitational and posted a .449 batting average in its 4-0 record for the weekend. In its doubleheader on Saturday, Oklahoma opened the tournament with a 10-1 run-rule victory over North Texas in six innings and followed it with a 19-7 victory over Utah Valley State. In Sunday’s twin bill, the Sooners took a 14-1 win over Utah Valley State in five innings and finished the Invitational with a 10-5 victory over North Texas.
Upon returning home from California, the Sooners will head to Denton, Texas, for its third meeting of the season against North Texas. The March 22 game is slated for 6 p.m. on Wednesday. The Sooners will return home for the opening weekend of Big 12 play as OU hosts the Missouri Tigers March 25-26 at the OU Softball Complex. Saturday’s game is set for 1 p.m. and Sunday’s contest will be held at 12 p.m.
The Utah Utes head to the tournament with a 12-6 record after snapping their nine game winning streak with a 4-1 loss to North Carolina this past Sunday. Included in the winning streak was a 6-4 win over Cal Poly, the same team the Sooners beat 5-2 in the Palm Springs Classic two weeks ago. Before meeting up with the Sooners, the Utes will face Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday.
As an offense, the squad owns a .288 clip, highlighted by second baseman Jacki Wong’s .484 average and rookie Jessica Shiery’s team-leading 13 RBI and three home runs. Defensively, Kanna Cannon leads the Utes staff with a 1.69 ERA while Meghan Dyer (6-1) adds a 2.23 ERA.
Alabama will mark the sixth ranked team the Sooners have faced this season as the Tide, a WCWS team in 2005, arrive on a nine-game winning streak and an impressive 21-3 overall record. Alabama’s three losses of the season have come against Missouri State, Southern Miss and Ohio State, all of whom are unranked.
The Tide pitching has been Alabama’s staple this season as the staff owns a combined 0.60 ERA and has pitched 11 shut outs while holding opponents to a .119 clip and averaging 10.1 strikeouts per game. Senior ace Stephanie VanBrakle (12-1) is coming off her second no-hitter of the season and currently owns an 0.34 ERA while averaging only 1.6 hits and 10.3 strikeouts in 14 appearances.
The Alabama offense is contributing a .300 batting average led by freshman Brittany Rogers .406 clip and sophomore Dani Woods’ (.333) team-leading 18 RBI and four home runs.
SCOUTING FRESNO STATE
The Sooners will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss to the Bulldogs two weeks ago as Fresno State, who currently owns a 16-9 record and a six-game winning streak, will play a doubleheader against Southern Utah Tuesday before heading to the Classic.
Rookie hurler Robin Mackin owns a staff-best 1.36 ERA with a 13-5 record, including the earlier win over Oklahoma where she held OU to one earned run on five hits while striking out 11 Sooners.
Senior shortstop and leadoff batter Christina Clark, last week’s WAC Player of the Week, owns a .420 batting average with 14 RBI and a team-best three home runs. As a unit, the Bulldogs post a .306 overall batting average.
Oklahoma and Utah will be meeting for the 17th time in series history with OU owning the 11-5 advantage and a four-game winning streak over the Utes. The Sooners last win over the Utes was a 6-0 victory in 2002 in the Kia Classic, the previous name of the Judi Garman Classic.
Alabama and OU will match up for only the fifth time in series history, with the all-time meetings tied at 2-2. The last contest between the squads resulted in a 2-0 Tide win over the Sooners in 2005 at the Houston Hilton Classic.
Fresno State owns the all-time series against OU, 10-6, including a 4-2 win over the Sooners two weeks ago in the Palm Springs Classic. OU will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
In the recent ESPN.com/USA Softball poll (March 14), the Sooners dropped one spot to No. 15 in the weekly poll. The Sooners currently sit at No. 14 in the USA Today/NFCA poll that was released March 8, but the new one had not been released as of press time. 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.
PLAYER TO WATCH: AMBER SPAULDING
The junior right fielder and Big 12 Player of the Week had the most impressive week of her career this past week as she led OU to a 5-0 record after hitting four home runs in four straight games and posting a .529 clip with 13 RBI. In OU/Worth Invitational action last weekend, she tied or broke six different single game career highs.
The home run leader (six on the year) for the Sooners is on a five-game hitting streak and owns a .355 batting average while ranking second in the Big 12 in runs scored with 27.
OU’s opponents so far this season might feel like they’re seeing double as the Sooners have successfully turned 14 double plays in 2006, a Big 12 best. Baylor owns the second-best margin in the Big 12 with 10 this season, but every other Big 12 school has five or less. In addition, Oklahoma leads all teams in the top-10 polls with 14 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 11 double plays turned on the season.
SPAULDING NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK
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.
Though 27 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 22 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.
-Ricketts, Dickenson and Legendre have been a contributor in 13 of OU's 14 double plays this season
-Dickenson hit .500 this past week with four RBI and two home runs
-Ricketts is second on squad with 23 RBI
-Dickenson is one of six Sooners to hit multiple home runs this season
-Mathis (1.87 ERA) and Hudsonpillar (2.02 ERA) lead the staff in ERA this season
-Hudsonpillar owned a perfect 1.000 ERA this past weekend while Mathis only gave up four runs in four games
-Ricketts is second on squad with 23 RBI
-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 for the past two weeks. In the last two weekends, the rookie has posted an 0.98 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched and has amassed a 4-1 record while only allowing four earned runs in six appearances. Her second win of the season was a one-hit shutout against Tulsa where she struck out five batters in the 8-0 Sooner victory. In her third win of the year against Utah Valley State, Mathis struck out a season-high seven batters.
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.
TWO OUT RALLY
Oklahoma is using a two-out rally to score most of its runs this season as the Sooners are batting .325 (77-for-237) and have driven in 45 percent (76 of 170) of their RBI with two outs. No player has shown this skill more than Kristin Vesely who has pounded 18 of her team-leading 27 RBI with two outs.
Notable streaks entering the Norman Residence Inn Invitational:
211 - Consecutive games started by Kristin Vesely.
147 - Consecutive weeks since the inception of the NFCA Poll that OU has been ranked in the top-25.
12 - Consecutive seasons of 40 or more wins, 11 under Gasso.
12 - Consecutive trips to the NCAA postseason
10 - Consecutive games with an extra-base hit
6 - Consecutive Regional Championships
6 - Consecutive games won when scoring in the first inning
6 - Current hitting streak for Norrelle Dickson
5 - Current hitting streak for Kristin Vesely, Amber Spaulding and Samantha Ricketts
4 - Current hitting streak for Jamie Fox
3 - Consecutive seasons Gasso has started a freshman at shortstop
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 HEADLINING BIG 12 OFFENSE
OU’s Norrelle Dickson and Kristin Vesely are highlighting the Big 12’s offense so far this season. Dickson, a junior left fielder, leads the league with 42 hits on the season, a 1.56 per game average. Vesely, a senior center fielder, is right behind Dickson with 40 hits (second in the Big 12) on the season for a 1.48 per game average.
Additionally, Dickson, Vesely and Amber Spualding, a junior right fielder, are the top three in conference in runs scored. Dickson leads with 36 scored on the year while Spaulding is second with 27 on the season and Vesely follows with 26 on the year (third in the league).
A third note is that Vesely and Dickson are No. 1 and No. 2, respecitvely, in on base percentage for the conference. Vesely leads the Big 12 with a .560 mark while Dickson is second with a .553 clip.
A final stat is that Vesely ranks third in the conference with 27 RBI, one behind the two RBI leaders of the Big 12 (Brette Reagan of Baylor and Desiree Williams of Texas).
BIG 12 BEST - PART TWO
Along with individual leaders, the Sooners are also leading the conference in overall team batting with a .329 clip. The Sooners are also tops in on base percentage (.415), slugging percentage (.514), runs (187), hits (239), doubles (46), RBI (170) and base on balls (91).
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 (.591), Kristin Vesely (.588) and are key components in advancing runners this season.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ’D
The Sooners are leading the Big 12 with a .978 fielding percentage with only 17 errors committed this season despite starting three freshmen in the infield. OU’s 17 errors are the second-lowest in the Big 12 despite 5 18 put outs. Nebraska owns the least amount of errors with 14, but has only recorded 401 put outs on the year.
EXTRA BASE HITS
OU has posted an extra-base hit in 24 of 27 games this season, including 21 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). Amber Spaulding leads the Sooners with 12 extra-base hits on the year (5 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR) while Kristin Vesely follows with 11 (7 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR).
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.