Oklahoma is about to hit the softball field for a brand new season and they’re going to be every bit as dangerous as seasons past. Don’t let the departures of Paige Lowary and Paige Parker fool you into believing this team might slip a bit.
A couple of transfers in the pitching circle and a mature batting line up have Patty Gasso eyeing a ninth consecutive Big 12 championship and a 13th appearance in the Women’s College World series since the turn of the century.
“Offense is strong,” Gasso said about her team as they prepare for the GCU Kickoff Tournament in Phoenix, Arizona. “Upperclassmen (are) great leaders. Defense is going to be strong. We’re faster than we’ve ever been, so I’m really excited. I think this is going to be a team that makes some noise throughout the season.”
Another Year, Another Top 10 Ranking
Oklahoma enters the 2019 season ranked No. 4 in both major polls. It marks the ninth straight year they have started in the NFCA’s preseason Top 10, which is the nation’s longest active streak.
OU returns two first-team All-Americans in senior infielder Sydney Romero and sophomore utility player Jocelyn Alo. Also returning are All-Region honorees Shay Knighten, Caleigh Clifton, and Nicole Mendes.
Second only to Alo, Romero had a whopping .395 batting average last season, knocking 77 hits for 61 RBI and 12 home runs. She finished the season with a 651 slugging percentage.
Alo led the nation in home runs in 2018, finishing the season with a record-tying 30 blasts over the fence. Named as the Freshman of the Year, she recorded a team-high .420 batting average with 72 RBI.
Knighten batted .353 with eight home runs in 2018. Clifton went .293 from the plate, with seven homers, and swiped thirteen bases. Mendes also stole thirteen bases and recorded a .309 batting average.
Pitching By Committee
The Sooners landed a huge transfer in Giselle “G” Juarez from Arizona State.
A NFCA First-Team All-American last season, Juarez finished with a 26-6 record and 1.22 ERA last season, allowing just 39 runs on 91 hits over 224.1 innings while also recording 305 strikeouts and 13 shutouts. She was one of just nine Division I pitchers to reach 300 strikeouts in 2018.
“Giselle is a lot like, in a different way, Paige Parker,” Gasso said. “She can mix things, move things, keep hitters off-balance. She’s a phenomenal addition to this group.”
The success from the circle won’t just be on the shoulders of Juarez in 2019 though. Gasso has multiple arms in the bullpen and she plans to use them.
“This year’s going to be more of a pitching staff by committee,” Gasso said. “We’ve got six options, and they’re all good options, but we believe we’re going to piece it together this year in that direction.”
FIU transfer Shannon Saile (1.93 ERA in 2018), and freshman Brooke Vestal join a staff that already included juniors Parker Conrad and Mariah Lopez.
Conrad picked up three saves and recorded a 1-0 record during 30.1 innings of work in 2018.
Lopez tossed 76.1 innings on her way to a 14-0 record and 1.56 ERA.
Starting Out West
Oklahoma’s 2019 season begins Friday with a double-header at the Grand Canyon University Kickoff Tournament in Phoenix against Syracuse (3:30 p.m. CT) and Grand Canyon (6 p.m.)
The Sooners will then play Charlotte and Syracuse on Saturday before finishing the weekend against San Diego State on Sunday.
OU went 5-0 at the GCU Kickoff Tournament in 2018.