Oklahoma pitchers Parker Conrad and Paige Lowary have a lot more in common than just the team name on their uniforms. They both started their careers at Missouri. They both ended up needing a fresh start away from Columbia. They both ended up at Oklahoma and benefited greatly from OU pitching coach Melyssa Lombardi.
Conrad was in Stillwater, and on the verge of committing to play for Oklahoma State, when she received a text from the person who had hosted her when she made her recruiting visit to Missouri. Only this time Paige Lowary was in Norman, Oklahoma.
“I’m like, ‘Show me where she is’” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso stated about the time Paige Lowary told her there was another story out there just like hers.
Lowary’s story is one of pain, suffering, healing, and redemption. The pain and suffering part happened at Missouri with the healing and redemption coming at Oklahoma.
Just minutes after being drilled in the face with a line drive, off the bat of Oregon’s Nikki Udria, in 2016 Lowary was put back in the game and ended up allowing six runs. Less than a week later she was back in the circle starting against Michigan.
Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine was known to be hard on his players and he clearly made the wrong choice with Lowary. Putting a mask on her and forcing her back into the circle only wrecked her confidence and did nothing to help overcome her fear.
“It took me a long time. I went right back in the game about five minutes later, which I probably shouldn’t have. Mentally, it took me six months to recover. I had a lot of memory and concentration problems. But I stayed in the game, I probably shouldn’t have. Physically, I got over the fear of it, I guess two months. But mentally, I suffered a lot of things outside softball.” – Paige Lowary on her recovery
After starting six consecutive games in the regional and super regional that year, Lowary decided it was in her best interest to leave Missouri. Once she arrived to Oklahoma, Gasso saw that the first thing she needed was time.
“We put her through proper testing,” Gasso said. “I don’t think she got the help she should’ve gotten, and our doctors said, ‘You know what, this kid needs a break.’ So whatever they say, we’re going to do.”
During her time of healing Lombardi began to work her magic, adding control to Lowary’s already insane velocity. The next step was to find the right place for her in a lineup that already featured a superstar in the pitching circle with Paige Parker. Adding Lowary to the role of a closer was not only the perfect fit for Oklahoma, it was also the perfect fit for her.
“When I start, people are prepared for what I’m going to throw,” Lowary said. “But they prepare for another pitcher when another pitcher is starting, and then they’re just not prepared for my speed when I come in. So I like to close. I like big situations, too.”
It’s the perfect success story of a young woman who went from having her confidence taken to hoisting the national championship trophy after playing an key role in the Sooners winning their second consecutive title.
That’s why when she heard that Parker Conrad was also looking for a safe haven she reached out to her. Instead of committing to Oklahoma State Conrad, and her father, traveled south to Norman to meet with the Oklahoma coaches.
Taking a page out of their own playbook, Gasso and Lombardi played the role of the starter and closer.
Gasso met Conrad with her iconic smile and the warm hospitable personality that immediately makes everyone like her, Parker Conrad included.
“I was like ‘Whoa,’” Conrad said about her introduction to Gasso. “I hadn’t experienced that in a year. It was a genuine, ‘Hi, how are you?’ kind of a thing.”
“That went a long way for me. I spent a year of not getting that, and kind of just scared to death to even make eye contact with a coach.” – Parker Conrad
From there Gasso turned it over to Lombardi and the closer closed.
“We spent 30 minutes looking at film, and she already fixed three major things with my pitching,” Conrad said. “I was like OK, you got me.”
Paige Parker and Paige Lowary aren’t just the top to pitchers on Oklahoma’s roster, they’re also the top hurlers in the Big 12 and the best pitching duo in the country. Parker Conrad is the future though.
In March Conrad earned her first career victory as a Sooner when she blanked Illinois State for six innings, striking out six batters in the process. Going into last weekend’s Big 12 Tournament she had posted a 0.79 ERA in 26.2 innings of work.
When the Missouri Tigers take the field Friday afternoon for the first game of the Norman Regional they’ll have a new leader in the dugout. Ehren Earleywine was fired in January and the Tigers are moving forward with their own fresh start.
Should Oklahoma and Missouri both win on Friday then they’ll face each other on Saturday.