By Ben Johnson
CNHI News Service
Erica Sampson wasn’t being rude. She just wanted to make sure she didn’t hurt anyone.
The former Tahlequah standout made a subtle suggestion to Oklahoma’s bat girl during the final inning of the Sooners’ national championship-clinching 4-0 victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night.
“When there were two outs left, I was next to the bat girl,” Sampson recalled, “and I asked her to step down because I was going to kick my leg over the railing (of the dugout).”
OU pitcher Michelle Gascoigne proceeded to strike out Lexi Overstreet for the final out in the seventh inning, and that’s where Sampson’s memory gets a little foggy.
“I don’t know if I blacked out,” Sampson said. “I couldn’t remember anything in between running out (onto the field) and until getting off the dogpile.”
Sampson said her teammates uttered the same sentiments. Every member of Oklahoma’s softball team was having trouble remembering exactly what happened once the final out was recorded at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Even several days after winning the title, Sampson and her teammates are still walking around in a daze.
“We’re still kind of in shock,” Sampson said. “The coaches said it’ll be something that’ll change our lives. It’s just incredible.”
It was a year in the making for the Sooners, who had to watch Alabama celebrate a national championship on the same field in 2012. But Sampson and Co. weren’t going to let it happen again.
“Last year, we were talking about what we were going to do afterward, like who was going to grab who after the game (against Alabama in the championship game),” Sampson said. “This year, though, we weren’t going to be satisfied until we got there and won the title.”
Oklahoma polished off a 57-4 record and cemented itself among the elite to ever play college softball. Sampson said that was the goal before the season began in February.
“This year flew by,” Sampson said, “because we were on a mission to get to the title.”
For Sampson, winning the championship at softball’s mecca more than made up for coming up short of a high school crown during her senior season in 2010.
“I had always been short of finishing it all — just like last year, Alabama took us to the final game of the year,” Sampson said. “This year was just about going out there and being with everybody. You could just make eye contact with a teammate and start crying because it’s what we had our hearts set on.”
Her recently-completed sophomore season was an adjustment for Sampson. As a freshman, she started 27 games and played in 67 while collecting 97 at-bats, 18 hits, four home runs and 18 runs batted in. This season, Sampson played in 45 games and only started in one while serving mostly as a pinch- runner for the Sooners.
None of that mattered to her.
“It did take me a little while to accept that fact,” Sampson said of her playing time being reduced. “But we just made ‘21 strong’ our motto this year, and we had to be 21 locked in to pull it off.”
Sampson did score 15 times in 2013, including once in OU’s epic, come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Tennessee in the first contest of the best-of-three series with the Lady Vols in the Women’s College World Series final matchup.
“If my job (this season) was going to be a runner every game,” Sampson said, “then I was going to run my best. “There were no hard feelings for a girl playing ahead of me. I love them all the same. It’s all worth it in the end.”
Listed as an outfielder and a catcher on OU’s roster, Sampson will now turn her focus toward the 2014 season. The Sooners lose pitchers Keilani Ricketts and Gascoigne, catcher Jessica Shults and outfielder Brianna Turang from this season’s team. Thus, playing time may become more prevalent for Sampson once the calendar flips and a new year begins.
“You just don’t know,” Sampson said of more playing time next season. “We’ll have an exit meeting, and (Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso) will tell us what she expects from us. It’ll just be a battle for a position during practice next season.”