May 10, 1999

The ninth-ranked Oklahoma softball team won the Big 12 Conference regular-season championship with an 11-3 record, just slightly ahead of the the 10-4 Texas Longhorns.

This is only the second time in school history OU has finished the regular season in first place. However, it became the first school in the shortened Big 12 history to win two championships. The Sooners won the first Big 12 championship in 1996.

By finishing first in the regular season, OU heads into this week's Big 12 Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Sooners, who are currently 38-12 overall, will play at 10 a.m. Thursday on the main field at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

OU will face the winner of the eighth-seeded Oklahoma State/ninth-seeded Iowa State game, which takes place at 5 p.m. Wednesday in an elimination game. Seventh-seeded Texas A&M and 10th-seeded Baylor play in the other elimination game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The winners of Wednesday's contests will participate in the tournament's double-elimination format starting Thursday. In regular-season action, the Sooners won all three games against OSU (3-2, 7-2, 6-2) and swept a doubleheader from Iowa State, 3-2 and 5-0, in Ames, Iowa.

Win or lose Thursday morning, OU will play again later that day. If the Sooners win, they will play at 6 p.m. against the winner of game four between fourth-seeded Nebraska/fifth-seeded Kansas. If OU loses, it will play at 3 p.m. against the loser of Nebraska and Kansas. This season, the Sooners split a doubleheader with the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., 2-4 and 10-1. OU swept a doubleheader over Kansas in Norman, 4-2 and 5-3.

Last Time Out

OU played its last regular season game, April 30, against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.

And what pressure that game was for the Sooners. Not only was the stress of Bedlam involved, but if OU won the game it would be crowned Big 12 champion. A loss to OSU could have meant a second- place finish in the regular season. But in front of 530 fans at Cowgirl Field, OU responded to the pressure and defeated the Cowgirls for the third time this season, 6-2.

Leading the Sooners was senior first baseman Lynette Velazquez. The Big 12 Player of the Year candidate crushed two home runs, breaking OU's school record for most homers in a single season. Her total of 18 home runs broke Casey Dickson's mark of 17 set in 1997.

OSU got the early lead in the first scoring one run off of OU's ace Jennifer Stewart. But in the fourth, Velazquez tied the score at 1-1 with a deep solo shot over the center field fence. The Cowgirls took the lead again in the fifth, 2-1. But Velazquez gave the Sooners the lead for good in the sixth with an opposite field two-run homer to make the score 3-2. OU added three insurance runs in the seventh.

Freshman Ace

Freshman Jennifer Stewart has gone beyond the high expectations placed on her at the beginning of the season. She has solidified herself this year as the ace of the pitching staff.

Stewart is 20-3 on the season with a 1.19 ERA. In her college debut Feb. 9, the Yukon, Okla., product threw a no-hitter in OU's 7-0 victory. She added a perfect game to her accomplishments April 6 in the Sooners' 7-0 win over Wichita State.

In 164.2 innings pitched, Stewart has allowed 35 runs (28 earned) and has struck out 120 batters. Opponents are hitting only .182 off of the left-handed power pitcher.

Stewart is 7-1 in the Big 12 with a sparkling 0.90 ERA. She was the winning pitcher in the Bedlam battle, a 6-2 victory over Oklahoma State on Friday, April 30.

Defensive Minded . . .

Much of OU's success in the past and the present under head coach Patty Gasso has been because of its defensive performance. OU currently ranks first in the nation in fielding percentage (.978).

The Sooners have a chance to break school records in two defensive categories this year: fewest errors in a season (52) and fielding percentage (.974). OU currently has 34 errrors out of 1,520 chances in 50 games, and as mentioned, a .978 fielding percentage. Senior first baseman Lynette

Velazquez has committed only two errors in 368 chances, which is tops on the team.

In a Hitting Zone . . .

To say Lynette Velazquez is in the zone this season would be an understatement. The senior from Huntington Beach, Calif., has done it all. For her efforts, she is one of the top candidates to win the Big 12 Player of the Year award.

Currently, Velazquez sits atop the majority of the hitting categories in the Big 12. She is at the top in home runs (18), RBIs (59), hits (62), slugging percentage (.822) and total bases (125). Her .408 batting average ranks third in the conference.

Velazquez's 59 RBIs currently ranks seventh in the nation and her 18 home runs are tied for third.

In conference play, Velazquez numbers have been outstanding. In 14 games, she hit .429, slammed seven home runs, drove in 21 runs and finished with a .976 slugging percentage and a .520 on-base percentage.

On defense, Velazquez continued to demonstrate why she is one of the best fielding first basemen in the nation. In 108 chances in the Big 12, she committed only one error. For the season, Velazquez committed two errors in 368 chances (.995).

Velazquez has been named Big 12 Player of the Week three times this season, including last week. She earned the honor by hitting two home runs in OU's 6-2 victory over Oklahoma State, April 30, in the last regular season game. The two homers helped secure the 1999 Big 12 Conference regular-season championship for the Sooners.

Runners Beware!

Opposing runners should be aware of Ashli Barrett behind the plate, where she continues to showcase her cannon-like arm. This season, the sophomore has thrown out 25-of-42 would-be stealers (60 percent). In 13 steal attempts against Barrett in conference play, she has thrown out six runners.

The Oklahoma City, Okla. product is also one of the best defensive catchers in the Big 12 and maybe the nation. Barrett has committed only one error in 279 chances and has allowed only four passed balls.

While Barrett's defensive abilities are impressive, her offensive skills this season are also excellent. She has been one of the most consistent hitters on the team. Her current average is .333 (.370 in the Big 12), but she has not allowed her average to dip lower than .314 all year long.

Barrett has shown some power with her seven home runs, including a game-winning three-run homer in OU's 3-0 win over Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on April 17. Her 31 RBIs rank third on the squad.

The Sooners on the other hand have run well this season. OU has two players with 10 or more stolen bases (Washington-17, Ring-11) and two others with over five stolen bases. As a team, the Sooners have been successful 56 times in 75 tries, for a success rate of 75 percent.

Three more for 400!

Head coach Patty Gasso is nearing a milestone. With three more wins, she will have a total of 400 in her career as a head coach.

In her 10th year, she is 397-148-1 overall (.727). In her fifth season at OU, Gasso has compiled a 235-89 record (.725). She needs 15 more wins for a total of 250 at OU.

The Sooners' first-place finish in the regular season conference race continues an impressive streak by Gasso. None of her teams have ever finished lower than second in a conference race. She became a head coach in 1990.

To Be the Best . . .

Once again, head coach Patty Gasso believes in order to be the best, you have to play the best. And she backs up this statement by playing a tough schedule every year. This season is no different.

The Sooners have played seven top-25 teams, going 7-7 (.500) against those squads. OU played in three of the most competitive tournaments in the nation this year (UTA Classic, NFCA Leadoff Classic and The Kia Klassic). The Sooners finished with an 11-5 record in those three events.

The Big 12 Conference has proven this season to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Four of the 10 schools in the Big 12 Conference are currently ranked in the NFCA/USA Today top-25 poll (OU, Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri).

History Repeats Itself?

History is on the side of the Sooners. Since the Big 12 formed in 1996, the winner of the regular-season championship went on to win the Big 12 Tournament.

In 1996, the first Big 12 Tournament, OU won both. In 1997, Missouri accomplised the feat. Last season, Nebraska finished undefeated in conference play (17-0) and went on to capture the Big 12 Tournament title. The only team the Sooners don't own a winning record against this season in the Big 12 is Texas (1-2).

Sooner Quick Notes:

  • The Sooners are 8-2 in their last 10 games, but have lost two out of their last four.
  • OU is tied for second in the Big 12 in team batting average (.288). Last year, the Sooners finished with a .261 batting average.
  • The Sooner pitching staff ranks fourth in the conference in overall ERA (1.64).
  • Freshman Christy Ring's 37 runs scored ranks third in the Big 12.
  • OU's .978 fielding percentage is currently the best in the nation. The Sooners' .974 fielding percentage last year was fourth-best in the nation and set a school record for OU.
  • Lynette Velazquez needs two RBIs to tie the school record for most RBIs in a single season. Casey Dickson finished with 61 RBIs in 184 at-bats in 1997. Velazquez currently has 152 at-bats.
  • OU has had eight games this season canceled due to inclement weather.
  • Lana Moran has struggled this season after finishing 23-9 last year. The junior pitcher has battled through recovery of an ACL injury and is 10-8 this year with a 2.07 ERA.
  • Big 12 Conference Standings (As of 5/10)

    Conference Overall
    School W L T Pct. W L T Pct.
    Oklahoma 11 3 0 .786 38 12 0 .760
    Texas 10 4 0 .714 38 15 0 .717
    Missouri 10 5 0 .667 37 17 0 .685
    Nebraska 10 8 0 .555 28 18 0 .607
    Kansas 8 8 0 .500 27 26 0 .509
    Texas Tech 6 7 0 .462 31 27 0 .534
    Texas A&M 7 11 0 .389 39 18 0 .684
    Okla. State 4 8 0 .333 20 22 0 .476
    Iowa State 5 11 0 .313 23 29 0 .442
    Baylor 5 11 0 .313 30 24 0 .556

    USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Poll (as of 5/5)

    1. UCLA (23) 51-4
    2. Fresno State (0-2) 57-8
    3. Arizona 42-12
    4. S.W. Louisiana (0-1) 51-9
    5. Washington (0-1) 41-14
    6. Michigan 46-9-1
    7. Louisiana State (1-0) 46-8
    8. Southern Mississippi 48-6
    9. OKLAHOMA 38-12
    10. Illinois-Chicago (0-1) 62-15
    11. Oregon State 40-19
    12. Texas (1-2) 39-15
    13. Arizona State 37-19
    14. Stanford 38-19
    15. South Carolina 46-17
    16. Massachusetts (1-0) 38-8
    17. DePaul 44-11
    18. Oregon (1-0) 38-22
    19. California 36-19
    20. New Mexico 39-12
    21. Maryland 45-19
    22. Texas A&M (2-0) 39-18
    23. Missouri (1-0) 37-16
    24. South Florida 42-24
    25. Pacific 33-18