NORMAN — One of the most difficult parts of game day for Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso occurs well before her team ever takes the field.
Over the last two months, the lineup card must’ve felt like an unsolvable puzzle for Gasso, with a constant stream of injuries, adjustments and shuffling to find the right mix both in the field and at the plate.
Heading into their Women’s College World Series opener against second-seeded Alabama at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, the No. 7-seeded Sooners look to be closer to getting the lineup dialed in, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s an emotional roller-coaster, really, but in a good way, because we’ve seen players emerge like Kady Self,” Gasso said. “We wouldn’t be in this situation without Kady Self. To see her tear her ACL was a blow to us. Then Lauren (Chamberlain) goes down.
“But people started stepping up to fill in the gaps until we figured out what we were gonna do next.”
Gasso has used a different batting order for each of the Sooners’ six NCAA Tournament games, though in the final two games of the super-regional against Tennessee, OU had all the same players in the same positions for the first time in the postseason.
Of the nine players in Sunday’s batting order, only five of them have started more than 36 of the Sooners’ 61 games.
Injuries have been the biggest reason for the shuffling. Chamberlain, the team’s most dangerous hitter, made her 36th start Sunday after missing 25 games with two separate injuries.
A knee injury kept Chamberlain out of the first regional tournament game, and she couldn’t play in the field for the next two. Finally in the super-regional, she was back in at first base, and looking more comfortable at the plate.
For the series, she was 7-for-11 with four RBIs and two monstrous home runs, though she’s still not 100 percent healthy.
“Game by game and at-bat by at-bat, I’m getting more comfortable,” Chamberlain said. “I’m kind of testing things out and seeing what my body lets me do and what it doesn’t. We have a couple days for some good rest and some rehab for me.
“But adrenaline takes over when I’m in the game anyway.”
Self, who had become one of the team’s most reliable hitters with a .425 average, played in 45 games and started 25 before tearing her ACL.
But other lineup shuffling has been necessary to meet different needs.
Gasso was looking for a reliable second pitcher behind starter Kelsey Stevens. Third baseman Shelby Pendley, who hadn’t pitched since high school, stepped in and has a 1.73 earned-run average in 21 appearances, with four saves — the only four saves OU has recorded.
Georgia Casey shifted from second base to shortstop, and outfielder Brittany Williams had to take over at first base when Chamberlain was out. Destinee Martinez has hit in several spots in the order before stepping into the leadoff role.
Maybe Gasso is close to solving her lineup questions, or maybe she’ll keep juggling. Despite the lineup difficulties, it hasn’t hurt the Sooners’ progress from once being ranked No. 23 in the nation to now being one of eight teams left playing for the national title.
“You’re seeing a team that, it doesn’t matter the situation or the circumstance, they just go out and play,” Gasso said. “It’s been a blast to see this group piece things together. I will never forget this group because of what they’ve gone through and how they’ve accomplished it.
“They’re very matter-of-fact and blue-collar. Their expectations are through the roof and they stand to those expectations.”