Ranked No. 1 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Poll and No. 2 in the USA Today/NFCA poll, the University of Oklahoma softball team continues the 2013 season this weekend with its first home games of the year.
The Sooners' home opener is set for Friday at 3:15 p.m. against Houston. After a doubleheader on Saturday against Nebraska, which begins at 1:30 p.m., OU closes out the weekend with a second contest against the Cougars on Sunday at noon.
Oklahoma is 34-8 all-time in home openers, including an 18-0 mark since Patty Gasso became head coach in 1995.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS
Sitting at 8-5 on the season, Houston opened the year by splitting its first four games before embarking on a five-game winning streak that included a pair of wins over DePaul. Since the winning streak, the Cougars have lost three of four, including a 3-2 setback against UTSA on Wednesday night. Friday's contest marks the first time the two teams have met anywhere other than in Houston. Oklahoma leads the all-time series, 4-1, including wins in the past two games. The teams last met on Feb. 14, 2009 with OU prevailing 5-3.
Nebraska (11-4) is ranked No. 25 in the most recent USA Softball Poll. The former Big 12 rival won its nine of its first 10 games this season. Playing five games at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic last weekend, including four against ranked teams, the Huskers went 2-3, including a 2-0 win over then-No. 23 Florida State. The Huskers lead all-time 42-39, but the Sooners have won six of the past seven meetings. In Norman, OU leads 16-13.
Oklahoma and Nebraska actually squared off six days ago at the Mary Nutter Classic with OU emerging with a hard-fought, 2-0 win. After being no-hit for six innings, senior Brianna Turang singled to lead off the seventh and moved to third after back-to-back walks. Senior Jessica Shults then singled through the right side to plate the game's only runs.
Senior Keilani Ricketts secured the win, battling
Nebraska's Tatum Edwards in a tight pitcher's duel. In throwing the shutout, Ricketts struck out nine batters in a complete-game effort, yielded just three hits and allowed one walk. Edwards was effective, but wild for the Cornhuskers. She gave up two earned runs on two hits and struck out eight, but she walked nine and hit another batter.
SOONERS STAY ATOP ESPN.COM/USA SOFTBALL POLL
Sporting a 15-0 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark at last weekend's Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., the Oklahoma softball team remained No. 1 in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25.
After capturing 16 first-place votes, OU is moving closer to being the unanimous No. 1 as it now has 18 of the 20 top votes and leads No. 2 Alabama, 498-480. The Sooners' three-week run atop the poll is the longest in school history. In fact, OU had never been No. 1 in consecutive weeks prior to this season.
Oklahoma stayed No. 2 in the NFCA Poll, where it has been all season. The Sooners gained 11 of 31 first-place votes for the second week in a row but the Crimson Tide's lead grew from seven points to nine.
RICKETTS NAMED BIG 12 PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Senior Keilani Ricketts dominated the competition at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic last weekend and has earned Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors for her efforts
In posting a 3-0 record, Ricketts did not allow a single run in 23.1 innings of work, including 21.0 innings against teams ranked or receiving votes. She struck out 34 batters and gave up just five hits to go with three walks allowed.
Ricketts has been named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week 13 times in her career, including the initial honors in 2013. Along with Michelle Gascoigne last week, the Sooners have taken home all three Big 12 Pitcher of the Week accolades this season.
Against No. 16 Georgia, Ricketts gave up one hit and one walk and struck out 10 in the 100th complete game of her career as the Sooners won 5-0. She picked up her first save of the season in a 5-2 win over UC Santa Barbara as she held the Gauchos hitless over the last 2.1 innings, striking out four.
Ricketts threw her fifth shutout of the season as she struck out nine batters in a complete-game effort in a 2-0 win over Nebraska. In improving to 7-0, she struck out 11 and allowed a lone single in the first inning against No. 23 Florida State as she threw her sixth shutout of the season. Ricketts and the Sooners retired the final 16 Seminoles batters of the game, not allowing a base runner beyond the second inning.
TO BE THE BEST...
Oklahoma has faced seven ranked opponents so far this year, and those teams all have something in common: none have scored a run against the Sooners.
Oklahoma has defeated Stanford (No. 20), Oregon (No. 6), Kentucky (No. 22), Washington (No. 16), Georgia (No. 16), Arizona (No. 19) and Florida State (No. 23) by a combined score of 47-0.
The Sooners' 7-0 record against ranked opponents is the best in the
nation, while Missouri and Texas A&M (both 1-0) are the only other teams that are undefeated in top-25 matchups. Oklahoma and Tulsa have each faced seven top-25 teams this season, the most in the country.
OU's current 7-game win streak against ranked teams is tied for the second-longest in school history. It also also happened in 1996, while the record is eight games from March 14-May 12, 2000.
Off to a 15-0 record to start this season, the Sooners have the second-longest unbeaten streak to start a season in school history. Only a 23-0 run to open 2007 ranks better in school annals.
In its history, OU has started the season with a 10-0 mark or better six times, all of which have come under Patty Gasso.
Under Gasso, OU has 21 winning streaks of at least 10 games
including three of at least 23 and seven of at least 15 wins.
Oklahoma's 1-2 punch of Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne has been dominant in 2013. Each player boasts a 7-0 record, has an ERA under 0.82 and is holding an opponents' batting average under .153. Ricketts has thrown six shutouts, Gascoigne has thrown three and the pair combined on another.
Gascoigne is averaging 13.5 strikeouts per seven innings and a 10.4 strikeout to walk ratio, while Ricketts' marks in those categories stand at 10.4 and 7.3, respectively.
In fact, in six of the 15 games this season, Ricketts and Gascoigne (with one appearance from Taylor Dewbery) have carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning.
5-0 AT MARY NUTTER CLASSIC
Oklahoma posted a 5-0 record at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, including three wins over top-25 teams. OU scored a pair of 5-0 wins to take down No. 16 Georgia and No. 19 Arizona.
After a 5-2 win over UC Santa Barbara, the Sooners scratched out a 2-0 win against Nebraska before defeating No. 23 Florida State, 6-0.
In allowing just two earned runs in 35.0 innings, the Sooners sported a 0.40 earned run average.
SHULTS MAKES HISTORY
Locked in a pitchers' duel, senior Jessica Shults used a historic blast to propel Oklahoma to a 5-0 win over No. 19 Arizona on Feb. 21 at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
The solo blast in the fifth inning of a 1-0 game was her third of the year and the 57th of her career, setting a Big 12 and school record for career home runs. It broke a tie with Texas' Megan Gibson and former Sooner Amber Flores who both hit 56 homers in their respective careers.
Oklahoma opened the Campbell/Cartier Classic with four straight shutouts, defeating UC Riverside, 7-0, San Diego State, 4-0, Kentucky, 11-0, in five innings and Washington, 2-0.
It was the first time since March 9-13, 2011 that the Sooners had thrown four consecutive shutouts. Going back to the final four innings of the Northwestern contest on Feb. 10, the Sooners' run reached 35 innings without allowing a run before Notre Dame scored in the sixth inning on Feb. 17. On the weekend, the Sooners gave up just three earned runs in 35.0 innings of work, good for a 0.60 earned run average.
SOONERS OPEN WITH SWEEP AT KAJIKAWA
Oklahoma opened the 2013 season with a perfect 5-0 mark at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. It's the second year in a row, and 10th time overall, that the Sooners have started 5-0 under Patty Gasso.
The Sooners defeated No. 21 Stanford, 6-0, behind a no-hitter from Keilani Ricketts and back-to-back-to-back home runs in the first inning from Jessica Shults, Ricketts and Shelby Pendley.
Lauren Chamberlain provided the punch in a 14-2, five inning win over Oregon State. She hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in six runs. OU scored 11 runs in the fourth inning.
Ricketts came back and fired another no-hitter to propel OU past No. 5 Oregon, 12-0, in five innings. The Sooners then run-ruled New Mexico, 11-1, in five innings before besting Northwestern, 7-4, behind two home runs from Georgia Casey.
RICKETTS THROWS BACK-TO-BACK NO-HITTERS
Keilani Ricketts started the 2013 season with no-hitters against No. 21 Stanford and No. 5 Oregon.
In a 6-0 win over the Cardinal, she struck out 14 batters and yielded just five baserunners. In fact, no balls put in play reached the outfield.
Ricketts then threw her second no-hitter in as many games as she shut down the Ducks, 12-0, in five innings. In earning career win No. 100, she allowed just two baserunners and struck out 10 batters.
She now has three career no-hitters, becoming the fifth pitcher in OU history to reach that figure. Ricketts also joins Lauren Eckermann as the only Sooners to throw no-hitters on consecutive days. Eckermann accomplished the feat on March 3-4, 2007 against Temple and Wichita State, respectively.
CHAMBERLAIN DOMINATES ON OPENING WEEKEND
Putting sophomore slugger Lauren Chamberlain into the leadoff position paid immediate dividends for the Sooner offense.
At the Kajikawa Classic, Chamberlain was 7-11 (.636) with 12 runs, 4 home runs, 12 RBI, 6 walks and 3 hit by pitch. She had a .800 on-base percentage and 1.727 slugging percentage.
Chamberlain reached base in her first 10 plate appearances, going 5-5 with four walks and a hit by pitch before striking out in her third plate appearance against Oregon. Of her five hits, four were home runs.
Between hits, walks, hit by pitches and a reach on error, Chamberlain reached safely in 18 of her first 21 plate appearances to start the season.
SAME OLD SHULTS
Jessica Shults' first at-bat of the 2013 season resulted in a three-run home run against Stanford. That's nothing new for the senior, though. She has led off three of her four seasons as a Sooner with a home run:
2/13/2010 Florida Atlantic Grand Slam
2/10/2011 Cal State Bakersfield Strikeout Looking
2/10/2012 Cal State Bakersfield 3-Run Home Run
2/08/2013 Oregon 3-Run Home Run
HOME RUN BARRAGE
Shults' three-run blast against against Stanford set the tone for the Oklahoma offense as she was followed by a solo shot by senior Keilani Ricketts and another solo bomb by Shelby Pendley for back-to-back-to-back home runs in the season's first inning.
On the weekend, the Sooners hit at least two home runs in every contest and finished with 13 in five games, an average of 2.6 per game. As a contrast, OU's five openings opponents had 14 total hits.
SUCCESS WITH THE BASES LOADED
In their opening weekend, the Sooners loaded the bases 21 times and scored 18 runs in those situation. The feat is even more remarkable as the Sooners only accumulated four hits to score the runs.
Oklahoma scored 10 times without putting the ball in play as it drew nine bases-loaded walks and one hit by pitch. For good measure, OU also had a grand slam, a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly.
SOONERS ADD TRANSFER PENDLEY
Shelby Pendley, an infielder who spent her freshman season at the University of Arizona, has transferred to the Oklahoma softball program.
An All-Pac-12 First Team honoree, Pendley started all 57 games at shortstop and led the Wildcats in slugging percentage (.703) and home runs (19). She also finished second on the squad with a .331 batting average, 55 runs batted in, 121 total bases and 39 runs scored.
Her home run total put her 13th nationally and two off the Arizona freshman record. She joins an Oklahoma lineup that ranked second in the country with 1.59 home runs per game and set school and conference records with 102 homers on the year. She also ranked 30th in the nation with 55 RBI, hit seven doubles and reached base at a .413 clip.
With the addition of Shelby Pendley, the potent Sooners' lineup becomes even more powerful.
As was noted by ESPN's Graham Hays, the combination of Lauren Chamberlain (30 home runs in 2012), Jessica Shults (20), Keilani Ricketts (17), Georgia Casey (10) and Pendley (19 at Arizona) combined to hit 96 home runs a year ago.
That figure for those five alone was higher than 281 of the other 282 teams in Division I College Softball a year ago.
GASSO INDUCTED INTO NFCA HALL OF FAME
Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso added another honor to an already impressive career in November when she was one of three members inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the 2012 NFCA Convention in Orlando, Fla.
Gasso joined North Carolina's Donna Papa and former Palomar head coach Mark Eldridge as members of the 2012 class.
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