MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

June 9, 2013

Sooners’ year started on top and never fell from there

NORMAN — It began the way it ended: in utter dominance.

Keilani Ricketts threw the first of six no-hitters this season in a 6-0 victory over Stanford on Feb. 8. It was the first of Oklahoma’s 57 victories, and it came in the first of many examples of the Sooners’ supremacy.

It ended when Michelle Gascoigne shut out Tennessee on June 4, exactly a year after Oklahoma defeated Alabama in the opening game of the 2012 championship before losing the next two.

It was that experience that planted the seeds of the juggernaut to come. The Sooners redoubled their efforts in the offseason and came away from the experience a stronger and more experienced team. Gascoigne developed from a good pitcher to a great one. And Ricketts developed from a great one into one of the greatest.

The arrival in the fall of All-Pac 12 transfer Shelby Pendley — who went on to be named the Big 12 Player of the Year — was the final piece of the puzzle. And when OU took the field against Stanford in February and a week later was named the No. 1 team in the country — a designation the Sooners never lost — the pressure cooker that was the 2013 season was turned on. Especially on Ricketts, who was the last out of the 2012 season.

“After last year’s national championship game, it definitely gave us one of the most painful feelings I’m sure all of us have ever felt,” said Ricketts, who was named the USA Softball Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. “It wasn’t our time. That just gave us so much drive and determination to get back to this moment. We knew that we were the favorite all year.”

They were the favorites for a reason. The Sooners rolled to a Big 12 title and didn’t lose in the postseason. They finished 57-4 and are the first team in more than 10 years to win a championship with fewer than five losses. They are one of just three teams to have a player win Player of the Year more than once. They are the only team to ever lead the NCAA in scoring, with 476 runs, as well as ERA, at 1.16. Lauren Chamberlain led the nation in home runs with 30, while Gascoigne led the country in ERA at 0.88.

Since the 4-0 victory over Tennessee earned OU its second nation title in program history and first in 13 years, the Sooners have been discussed as one of the greatest teams in softball history, and Ricketts has drawn praise as possibly one of the game’s best-ever all-around players.

Part of that praise has come from her coach, Patty Gasso, who has seen a lot of the game’s top players in her 19 years at the helm of the Sooners.

“I can’t compare her to anybody,” Gasso said after the Sooners’ title-clinching victory, talking to Ricketts as much as the audience. “Being able to work with her every day makes me know her a little bit more as well. So, to me, she is definitely one of the greatest of all time in this sport. This kid has been living with that for a while, and it’s been wearing on her. I think you can now say you are.”

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