MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 6, 2014

Change can be good: Two former Phoenix MVP’s find niche by transferring

By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer

— Sometimes a change of venue can be just what the doctor ordered.

That doesn’t need to be told to former Hilldale Lady Hornet Danielle Riddle and former Tahlequah Lady Tiger Erica Sampson, both of whom transferred from one Division I softball school to another after the end of last season.

Sampson, the 2010 All-Phoenix fastpitch Most Valuable Player, played for two seasons at the University of Oklahoma, including last season’s national championship campaign, before bringing her wares to the University of Tulsa. Riddle, the 2011 MVP, played last year for Arkansas and this season is in an Oklahoma State uniform.

“I’m from Oklahoma so I thought it was a good change,” Riddle said. “I have a better opportunity to play (at OSU). Plus I really like the coaches.”

Riddle appeared in five games as a freshman last year for the Razorbacks with only two at-bats. So far this year, Riddle is batting .382, second on the squad, in 32 games for the Cowgirls (21-16, 2-5 Big 12) and is third on the team with 19 RBIs.

And the secret to Riddle’s success has been just getting down to basics.

“Putting a lot of work in,” she said. “Hitting extra and the coaches have really helped me.”

For Sampson, it was a matter of wanting to play more that led to her decision to leave the defending national champions. While at Oklahoma, Sampson appeared in 111 games in her two seasons with 55 starts and scored 46 runs. Her playing time decreased as a sophomore, appearing in just 49 games.

“I knew (transferring) was in my best interest,” Sampson said. “I wanted to be somewhere where I was going to get to play all the time. It didn’t have anything to do with scholarship but I knew if I stayed there, I would have played every other game or every third game and it wouldn’t have been the same.”

And the new environment has paid off for both Sampson and the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa (35-4, 10-1 in Conference USA) is ranked 13th nationally in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll. Sampson is batting .358, fifth on the team, and leads the Golden Hurricane with seven home runs and is tied for second with 31 runs scored and 26 runs batted in.

“I’m so thrilled to back on the field every game,” Sampson said. “It’s a different mentality knowing I’m going to play every day. It helps me prepare and focus physically and mentally during the week.”

While Sampson has had the experience of facing her former team this year — a 1-0 loss to OU on March 9 — Arkansas is not on OSU’s schedule. But Riddle got to experience Bedlam first hand when the Cowgirls went to Norman on Wednesday and left on the wrong end of a 2-0 score.

“Just to play a team like OU and be a part of Bedlam was exciting,” Riddle said. “I got to play against a few of my friends.”

One aspect of the change was being closer to home.

“My dad (Hilldale softball and baseball coach Darren Riddle) has been able to come to a lot of the games,” Riddle said. “My sister (Destiny, who pitched the Lady Hornets to the Class 4A state championship last fall) not so much because of her playing basketball but they’re going to be able to come to a lot more now.”