By CORBIN HOSLER
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso has talked repeatedly about how important the bottom of the lineup is to the Sooners. She credits it for carrying the team when the top of the order isn’t performing, and there have been several game-winning rallies this season keyed by the last few batters.
Brianna Turang is at the heart of it all.
The senior has batted everywhere in the lineup in her four years at OU, and will again be called on to play a major role when the Sooners (50-4) meet Texas A&M (42-16) at 6 p.m. today in the first game of the best-of-three super regional.
Turang, who has batted leadoff in her career, has batted ninth for most of the season. On many teams that is a sign of a weaker hitter, but on this Sooners squad it is just the opposite.
The 2013 version of the Sooners is loaded, from top to bottom, a fact that Texas A&M coach Jo Evans went out of her way to acknowledge on Wednesday.
“From one to nine, this is the best lineup we’ve faced all year,” she said. “We understand how great their team is and we’re excited for the competition. We know we have to play a great regional.”
Turang is one of the major reasons the Sooner lineup is so scary. Because Lauren Chamberlain, one of the nation’s best hitters and a finalist for player of the year, hits at a such a high average Gasso moved her to the leadoff spot. But Chamberlain, who has 27 home runs this season, also has the most power on the team. That makes any hitter who can consistently get on base in front of her valuable.
That’s what makes Turang so valuable. She is batting .405 on the year and has as on-base percentage of .477. She is a proficient slap hitter who puts pressure on the defense and can beat out most infield grounders with her speed toward first base. The threat she presents forces defenses to play fast and has led to a number of errors this season.
While some batters may view the move to the bottom of the lineup as a demotion, Turang trusts her coaches and their ability to order the lineup.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I wouldn’t choose anything else,” she said. “I think it’s awesome to hit before Lauren. Understanding your role is really important and I’m able to enjoy being part of it.”
She’s not the only one who does. Gasso has shaped the batting order to get the most out of her loaded lineup. And that includes putting Turang into a position where she can enjoy success.
“We love to pass the bat and keep the inning alive,” she said. “The bottom of the lineup does a great job turning it back over to the top. It’s been a total team effort.”
OU softball notebook: Texas A&M bring donations to Oklahoma
Getting ready to head to Oklahoma for this weekend’s Super Regional, Texas A&M was already prepared to help. The Aggies had organized a donation among the program for the residents of West, Texas, who were rocked by an explosion last month.
Then, just a day before Texas A&M left for OU, Moore was rocked by a powerful tornado that leveled parts of the city. And the Aggies sprung into action. Players directed coach Jo Evans to tweet that they were accepting any and all donations that Oklahomans needed.
Evans planned to bring what they received on the team bus to donate. But that was soon impossible, as the overwhelming response from the community dwarfed anything the Aggies could expect. A local moving company stepped in and donated a truck to bring the materials to Oklahoma, where the Aggies took it to Journey Church in Norman.
And the Sooners were there to meet them.
By coincidence, OU’s softball squad was at the church when the Aggies arrived, helping to unload trucks and donations. The Sooners have split time at several locations.
“I thought that was pretty cool, and ironic,” coach Patty Gasso said. “Right now softball seems very trivial, and you almost feel somewhat guilty playing. But we hope we can bring a little bit of relief and a distraction for those who come out to the game.”
Sooners try to keep focus on softball
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso has kept her team busy volunteering in the community after Monday’s devastating tornado, but they’re also cognizant of the fact that the biggest game of their season is ahead of them.
To help keep the focus, a major part of what the Sooners have been doing is being open with each other following the tragedy.
“We’re letting ourselves feel the emotions about it and get it out to each other,” Lauren Chamberlain said. “We’re doing what we can do help and then getting the emotions out so we can focus on the weekend.”
Chamberlain, Ricketts named as finalists
Both Lauren Chamberlain and Keilani Ricketts have been named as finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year, along with Tennesee’s Raven Chavanne.
It is just the second time a school has put two athletes into the Top 3, after UCLA did it in 2002. Ricketts, who won the honor last year and was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, is second in the country with 15 shutouts this season and holds a 29-1 record. She would become just the third athlete to win the award more than once.
Chamberlain is well on pace to break the NCAA home run mark, and as followed up a record-breaking debut season a year ago with just as impressive of a sophomore season.
With Texas A&M in town for the Super Regional, Chamberlain said she appreciates the recognition but isn’t paying close attention to it.
“It’s exciting news but nothing changes,” she said. “There’s not any extra pressure on me.”
Casey riding streak
OU sophomore Georgia Casey has caught fire down the stretch. She is batting .433 over the last 19 games and is on a career-best 14-game hitting streak dating back to a late-April game against Texas. She’s also hit safely in 18 or her last 19 games.
It’s the longest such streak since Amber Flores also hit safely in 14 straight games in 2009. Casey will look to surpass that mark against Texas A&M today.
Baylor pitching prepares Aggies
Facing down one of the country’s top pitchers in Baylor’s Whitney Canion last week was the best possible preparation before facing OU’s Keilani Ricketts today, Texas A&M coach Jo Evans said.
“They’re not the same pitcher, but there are some similarities,” she said. “That’s prepared us for this.”