MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

June 2, 2014

OU softball nation shouldn’t feel disappointment

OKLAHOMA CITY — In the end, as long as reason and rationality persist, a team is ultimately judged upon how far it got against how far it should have gotten.

So score one for Patty Gasso’s Sooner softball team. Because, when you think about it, really, just getting back to Hall of Fame Stadium was this team’s victory. And, accepting that, Saturday’s 3-1 elimination triumph over Louisiana-Lafayette was gravy.

No, Oklahoma won’t accept that judgment too willingly.

The Sooners probably think they should have eliminated top-seed Oregon, too. They probably think they had some prayer of winning twice more on Sunday and returning to the WCWS championship series. After all, the ’69 Mets won it all.

Maybe if Georgia Casey had slid into second base in the bottom of the sixth inning and made it much harder for umpire Eric Mandley to blow the call, rather than making the first out of the frame, turning a sacrifice that should have left everybody safe into a fielder’s choice out.

Maybe if Erin Miller hadn’t committed a horrible base-running blunder in the fourth inning, charging toward the plate, alongside Oregon third baseman Courtney Ceo as Sooner nine-hole hitter Whitney Ellis failed to get a squeeze bunt down, yet only realizing Ellis had failed three steps before Ceo and making herself an easy pickoff target back at the bag.

Maybe if Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley, who enjoyed a whale of a World Series after no-showing a year ago, had both gone deep in the seventh …

But now we’re begging.

The No. 1 national seed ended OU’s season last night.

The better team won – these things happen.

The Sooners overachieved, at least a little, just to have the honor of being sent home.

Think about OU’s World Series history.

The legendary Jennifer Stewart pitched OU to its first four trips and its first championship. Kami Keiner was the next pitcher to get the Sooners into the final eight but she only did it once. Keilani Ricketts did it three times.

It’s hard to do.

Typically, it takes dominance and that’s not yet Kelsey Stevens’ forte.

That and Chamberlain wasn’t quite herself on a bum knee and not even Gasso could have been expecting a whole lot of production from the bottom of the order and the first half of the order, though potent, is a lot less lethal than a year ago, when Ricketts was almost as good in the batter’s box as she was in the circle.

Still they made it back.

They won a game – rejoice.

Believe it or not, OU should be better next season, maybe a lot better.

They’ll miss Destinee Martinez atop the order, but the Sooners’ best sluggers, Chamberlain and Pendley, come back for their final season. And Stevens has so much room for improvement, beginning with not walking so many batters.

What could be simpler? Just throw strikes. And, who knows, Paige Parker, a signee from Independence, Mo., might immediately shore everything up in the circle whether Stevens limits her free passes or not.

Sure, it’s a long way away, but it always arrives faster than you think and, of all the jumping off points toward another national championship chase, a three-day, three-game run at the World Series isn’t a bad one.

It’s really not a bad one when you think about who’s not here: UCLA, Arizona, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona State, historical heavyweights in the game.

So the Sooners making it back, you better believe it, is a very big deal. That the nucleus returns is an even bigger deal and, surely, somebody new is bound to emerge, too.

Maybe not another Chamberlain, but Gasso always seems to find somebody. Or maybe somebody else puts a whole season together, like Ellis, who’s a lot better than the way she finished her sophomore campaign at the plate.

All’s well that ends well? Actually, hardly ever in the sports world, because there’s never more than a single champ. Yet, something like that.

The Sooners are all right. And they’ll be all right.

– Clay Horning is the sports editor for the Norman Transcript.

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