How two freshman turned the Bedlam tide on OU’s Senior Day

How two freshman turned the Bedlam tide on OU’s Senior Day

Kasidi Pickering and Ella Parker had the two biggest Sooner hits in a win that changed the mood in Norman.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| May 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

May 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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NORMAN — Surrounded by seniors, Patty Gasso stood in the pitcher’s circle in the middle of Love’s Field on Sunday afternoon and made a proclamation.

“I am honored to be standing here in front of the best senior class college softball has ever seen,” she told the Sooner fans who remained for Senior Day.

Hard to argue with the OU coach.

The OU seniors, honored along with their loved ones after the Bedlam finale, have a resume that is eye-popping. The fourth-year seniors have won a whopping 222 games during their careers while losing 14. That’s a winning percentage of 94.1%.

Oh, and they’ve also got three national championships.

But their chances for a fourth national title improved greatly Sunday afternoon because of a pair of freshmen. On a day that was all about the OU seniors, it was Kasidi Pickering and Ella Parker who rousted the Sooners out of a serious funk.

OU 8, OSU 2.

“Full circle,” Gasso said of the freshmen putting their stamp on Senior Day. “This is going to be fun to have those two leading us into the next generation.”

To be honest, Pickering and Parker are leading now.

They aren’t captains. No, they aren’t veterans. But they came through Sunday when the Sooners were teetering.

After losing the first two games of Bedlam — and getting walloped pretty good by the Cowgirls in the process — there were raw emotions. They were on display Saturday evening in the postgame press conference. Alyssa Brito, who has been as solid at third as she has been spectacular at the plate this season, was reduced to tears.

She struggled to speak.

“What you saw was absolute frustration, knowing that we’re underachieving,” Gasso explained Sunday. “When you have 10 players that know this is it … I’ve never had to deal with that. I don’t know how to manage all of those emotions at one time. 

“But there was a heavy feeling on this team.”

The Sooners must’ve felt that weight even more through the first few innings Sunday. Even though senior transfer Karlie Keeney was throwing a jem, allowing only two hits through four innings, the OU bats were struggling.

And the senior hitters were the ones having the biggest issues. Tiare Jennings struck out swinging to end the first inning. Kinzie Hansen grounded out to end the second, leaving a runner on base. Jennings grounded out to end the third, leaving two runners on base, one of them at third.

Not getting timely hits, such a bugaboo when the Sooners have struggled this season, was an issue rearing its ugly head again.

“There’s been times when we’ve looked up at the scoreboard and like, ‘Oh, no,’ and we’ve never been that team,” Gasso said. “We’ve always felt like we have the bat in our hand, we could be down by any number and feel like we’re still gonna win. 

“Some of that kind of went away, and I was a little surprised. We were pressing, pressing a little unlike us.”

Then in the fourth with a runner on first and one out, Pickering worked up a 3-0 count. But after looking at a strike, then swinging at another, she found herself facing a full count. 

How would she respond?

Pickering launched the next pitch into the left-center-field bleachers.

But after the Sooners took that 2-0 lead, the Cowgirls answered back in the sixth with a two-run single from Micaela Wark. Suddenly, Sunday felt very much like Friday and Saturday when OSU answering all of OU moves, then eventually trumped them.

Would the Cowgirls do it again?

The Sooners answered that question in the sixth with a rally that started with singles by Rylie Boone, Cydney Sanders and Jayda Coleman. It felt like a big inning might be in the offing. But other times that had been the case over the weekend, and the big numbers never happened.

Then, Parker stepped to the plate.

She mashed the second pitch she saw to deep center field, a three-run shot that broke the game open and led to a six-run inning. 

“She has such a beautiful swing, and she’s just been kind of missing, just missing, just missing,” Gasso said of Parker. “We gave up quite a few home runs this weekend, and to finally get some ourselves was kind of like a door opening up for this offense as well.

“If you’re a senior or you’re a freshman, it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna take whatever you can give us that will give us some juice.”

Parker and Pickering gave the Sooners plenty of juice. On Sunday, they went a combined 4 of 7 — Parker was 3 for 4 — with five runs batted in.

All told, they hit a combined .316 in their first Bedlam series, driving in seven runs.

The six seniors who are regular starters (Alynah Torres, Coleman, Jennings, Brito, Hansen and Boone) were a combined .241 in the series with four runs batted in.

Maybe there was a bit of a perfect storm that the Sooners walked into this weekend with not having played great softball over the past month or so, with the Cowgirls bringing a great team to Norman and with a huge group of seniors realizing the gravity of their final regular-season series at home.

“There’s emotions. There’s crabbiness. There’s all kinds of different things going on,” Gasso said.

Freshmen like Parker and Pickering weren’t living in that same head space, and their hits helped turn the tide.

Lose on Sunday, and the Sooners would’ve been in a bad place heading into the postseason.

Instead, a decisive win changes the emotion, the outlook, the mood.

“We needed it,” Gasso said. “We had two rough days that were very uncharacteristic of who we are and how we play. Today felt really good, much more like us.

“This was just a breath of fresh air.”

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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