Elite Competition Awaits OU in Florida
Feb. 14-16 | Clearwater, Fla. | Eddie C. Moore Complex
|Thursday||No. 18/21 Kentucky||3 p.m.|
|Thursday||RV/No. 24 Notre Dame||6 p.m.
|Friday||Florida Atlantic||9 a.m.|
|Friday||No. 1/2 Florida State||12 p.m.|
|Saturday||RV/NR Hofstra||9 a.m.
NORMAN — The No. 3/3 Oklahoma softball team heads to the inaugural St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational Thursday-Saturday in Clearwater, Fla.
The Sooners are set for a competitive weekend, opening the tournament Thursday against No. 18/21 Kentucky (3 p.m. CT) before facing RV/24 Notre Dame (6 p.m. CT). On Friday, OU faces Florida Atlantic (9 a.m. CT) before taking on No. 1/2 and defending national champion Florida State (12 p.m. CT). The Sooners wrap up the weekend with a matchup against RV/NR Hofstra on Saturday at 9 a.m. CT
Last year, OU was 11-4 against NFCA Top-25 opponents.
This weekend will mark the first four of OU’s nationally televised games. Oklahoma’s contests against Kentucky and Florida State will air on ESPNU while matchups with Notre Dame and Hofstra will stream through ESPN3. Additionally, all games can be heard on the air through KEBC 1560 AM in Norman or online via the Franchise 2.
LAST TIME OUT
The Sooners opened the 2019 campaign with a 5-0 performance at the GCU Kickoff Tournament in Phoenix, Ariz. Overall, the Sooners earned three shutouts and three run-rule wins, outscoring opponents 44-2.
On Friday, OU took down Syracuse (6-0) and host Grand Canyon (7-1). Junior Mariah Lopez tossed a one-hit shutout against the Orange as Lynnsie Elam went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. In game two, GCU struck first with a solo home run, but OU responded with six runs in the fifth to take a commanding lead. Caleigh Clifton hit OU’s first home run of the season in the sixth to seal the win.
The Sooners then earned a pair of five-inning, run-rule wins on Saturday: 13-0 against Charlotte and 9-1 against Syracuse. Lopez threw another one-hit shutout in the first game, and Shay Knighten, Raegan Rogers and Grace Green each homered to power the Sooner offense. The offense continued rolling into game two, led by Jocelyn Alo’s 3-for-3 performance and Rogers’ 2-for-2 showing.
Making her first start in the Crimson and Cream on Sunday, junior Shannon Saile’s one-hitter led OU to a 9-0 five-inning victory over San Diego State to close out the weekend. At the plate, Oklahoma was led by Clifton, who finished 3-for-4 with a pair of hits and one RBI. Freshman Grace Lyons drove in two runs and scored one, finishing 2-for-2 with her first collegiate homer.
RUN IN POLLS CONTINUES
After going 5-0 last week, OU moved up one spot to No. 3 in both the USA Today/NFCA Division I Coaches Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25. Oklahoma is the only program to be ranked every week of the NFCA poll, a run of 355 straight polls.
Oklahoma entered the 2019 season ranked fourth in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Preseason Coaches Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Preseason Top 25.
OU’s No. 4 spot in the NFCA Poll marks the ninth straight year the Sooners have started in the NFCA’s top 10, good for the nation’s longest active streak. OU has been ranked in the top five in six of the past seven years, which is tied with Florida for the most over that stretch. Oklahoma, Michigan, UCLA and Washington are the only programs to be ranked in every NFCA preseason poll, which dates back to 1995.
This marks the 12th straight season and 15th in the 17-year history of the ESPN.com/USA Today poll that Oklahoma is ranked in the preseason top 10.
PITCHING CIRCLE RELOADS
Despite the departure of 2018 seniors Paige Parker (four-time All-American, four-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year) and Paige Lowary (No. 1 pick in 2018 NPF Draft), the OU pitchers are poised to be one of the premiere staffs in the country this season.
Junior Mariah Lopez has already began to step into the spotlight, earning the Big 12’s first Pitcher of the Week honor of the season after going 2-0 in two starts at the GCU Kickoff. Entering the 2019 season with one solo shutout in her career, Lopez recorded a shutout in both of her appearances. She threw one-hitters in each game, finishing with a league-best .051 opponent batting average.
Additionally, Lopez struck out 12 batters against Syracuse and 10 against Charlotte. Prior to opening weekend, Lopez had one career game with double-digit strikeouts. She finished the opening weekend of action with 12.83 strikeouts per seven innings pitched, the highest average in the Big 12.
Fellow junior Parker Conrad enters her second season with Oklahoma after transferring from Missouri prior the 2018 season. Conrad earned her first OU win last season against Illinois State, retiring 18 of 20 batters faced in a six-inning shutout while striking out a career-high six. Overall, she finished the 2018 season with an ERA of 0.69.
Lopez and Conrad are joined by junior transfers Shannon Saile (Florida International) and Giselle Juarez (Arizona State) for 2019. A native of Land O’ Lakes, Fla., Saile earned a pair of All-Conference USA First Team accolades in 2017 and 2018 with FIU. In 2018, Saile went 17-11 with a 1.93 ERA over 181.0 innings pitched, fanning 267 batters throughout the season. Her strikeout rate of 10.3 K/7IP ranked sixth nationally last year. She has made three appearances this season, tossing a one-hit shutout against San Diego State on Sunday in her first start.
In 2018, Juarez earned NFCA First Team All-America honors behind a 26-6 record and a 1.22 ERA. She allowed just 91 hits and 39 earned runs over 224.1 innings with 13 shutouts, ranking third nationally. Additionally, she registered 305 strikeouts last spring to become one of just nine NCAA pitchers to reach the 300-strikeout threshold. The Glendale, Ariz., product earned a pair of wins against Grand Canyon and Syracuse in the GCU Kickoff.
GUESS WHO'S BACK, BACK AGAIN
The Sooners have added familiar faces to the coaching staff in 2019. In July, head coach Patty Gasso announced the hiring of Jennifer Rocha as the program’s associate head coach and pitching coach. Once a student-athlete (1996-98) and graduate assistant (1999-2001) for the Sooners, the former Jennifer Jaime returns to Oklahoma after most recently spending 13 years at Florida.
During Rocha’s tenure, the Gators won two NCAA titles (2014, 2015) and made nine Women’s College World Series appearances (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018). Additionally, Florida claimed seven SEC regular season titles (2008, 2009, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018) and four SEC Tournament tiles (2008, 2009, 2013, 2018) with Rocha on staff. Leading the Gators’ pitching staff, Rocha has coached seven All-Americans. In 2015, she was named NFCA Assistant Coach of the Year.
Another new coach familiar to the Sooner program is Keilani Ricketts, who returned to Oklahoma to serve as the volunteer assistant in 2019. Ricketts is one of just three players in college softball history to be named the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year more than once, joining the ranks of Cat Osterman and Danielle Lawrie. Ricketts became the first Sooner to win the award in 2012 and then repeated in 2013.
The first four-time All-American in program history, Ricketts was named the 2013 Big 12 Female Athlete of the Year as she helped lead Oklahoma to its second national title. Selected as the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NPF Draft, Ricketts has spent the past six seasons with USSSA Pride, most recently leading the Pride to the 2018 Cowles Cup. Additionally, Ricketts joined the Toyota Shokki out of Kariya, Japan, in August 2013. Ricketts is also a member of the USA Softball Women’s National Team.
Also joining the Sooner staff are Kelsey Arnold and Lea Wodach, who will serve as undergraduate assistants for 2019 as they complete their academic programs. The duo exhausted their athletic eligibility in 2018, finishing their playing careers with two NCAA titles, four Big 12 regular season crowns, two Big 12 postseason trophies and three WCWS appearances.
Finally, a pair of graduate assistants round out the OU coaching staff’s new additions: DJ Gasso and Delanie Gourley. Gasso concluded his collegiate baseball career in 2018 at the University of Central Oklahoma, while Gourley graduated from Florida in 2017 after earning All-America First-Team, All-Southeast Region First-Team and All-SEC First-Team honors in both her junior and senior seasons.
LAST TIME THEY MET...
All-time, Oklahoma leads the series with Kentucky (6-1), trails Hofstra (0-1) and is tied with Notre Dame (5-5), Florida Atlantic (2-2) and Florida State (6-6). The Sooners have only played Kentucky, Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic and Hofstra at neutral sites, and 11 of the 12 meetings between OU and FSU have been at neutral locations.
In their last meeting, the Sooners defeated the Wildcats 7-3 at the 2015 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
The Sooners and the Irish also met last in Palm Springs, Calif., facing off in the 2017 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. Notre Dame earned a narrow 5-4 victory.
OU evened up the all-time series with Florida Atlantic by winning the last two contests: 12-0 in 2005 and 9-0 in 2010.
The Sooners are currently on a three-game winning streak against Florida State, most recently defeating the Seminoles 6-0 at the 2013 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
Saturday will be the first meeting between OU and Hofstra since 1996, when the Pride won 1-0 in Columbus, Ga.
The Sooners face another stout tournament field Feb. 22-24 as they head to Palm Springs, Calif., for the annual Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. OU will face BYU, UCLA, Arizona, Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara at the event.