When Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso thinks of the most valuable quality first baseman Lauren Chamberlain brings to the team, it’s not her leadership or her long home runs — both of which are vitally important to the Sooners’ success this week at the Women’s College World Series.
Gasso is most impressed by Chamberlain’s ability to not only produce, but thrive, in the most intense pressure situations.
And that’s exactly what the Sooners need from their most dangerous hitter over the next seven days if they want to retain the national title. The No. 7-seeded Sooners open against second-seeded Alabama at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I’ve never seen somebody so in tune and so confident,” Gasso said. “She’s fearless. She can hit anything.
“She just thrives on pressure situations. It’s very difficult to find athletes who thrive on those situations. She can just lead this team with one swing, and she’ll come back and do it again and again and again.
“It’s amazing how she can take herself to that place. It’s something that is very rare in college softball, or probably in any athlete.”
Alabama has one of the top pitchers in the nation, Jaclyn Traina, who took down the Sooners in the 2012 championship series. So the OU lineup will need all its firepower just to stay out of the loser’s bracket.
But Alabama coach Patrick Murphy knows what he’s facing with Chamberlain and the OU lineup. He coached her on the U.S. Junior National team while she was still in high school.
“We were taking batting practice in Bogota and it’s 110 degrees and everybody’s dying,” Murphy said. “The ball is mush in international ball, and she hit one about 260 feet.
“She means so much to them. At any time she can hit it out.”
Chamberlain has missed 25 games this season because of injuries, most recently a knee injury that requires her to play with a large brace on her right knee. But with the pressure maxed out last week in the deciding game of the super regional against Tennessee, Chamberlain launched two huge home runs — one that helped the Sooners build an early lead, and another that padded it late.
“She’s doing this with one leg,” Gasso said. “Nothing rattles her. Nothing makes her uncomfortable.”
She was out for seven weeks in March and April. After hitting 30 home runs each of her freshman and sophomore seasons, Chamberlain has just 12 this season. Because of the respect opposing coaches have for her bat, she was named a third-team All-American on Wednesday.
And now that she’s getting more and more comfortable at the plate in her return, she’s all the more dangerous.
“It’s great when Lauren is in the lineup,” said Shelby Pendley, who regularly bats behind Chamberlain and leads OU in home runs. “When she was out, it was an adjustment for us learning how to play without her. When she came back, she’s been doing some great things, hitting a lot of home runs, driving in a lot of runs.
“Having her back in the lineup makes us that much more solid.”
Back on the field at Hall of Fame Stadium, Chamberlain is ready to make some memories for herself and her team — possibly in the form of another national title.
“Some of the best moments of my life have been on that field and in that environment,” Chamberlain said. “I’m excited for (pitcher Kelsey Stevens) and some of our freshmen who haven’t been there before just to feel those feelings, because it’s unreal.”