Over and over again during her final postgame press conference of the softball season, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso referenced the journey she and her team had been on.
Having come up short of the ultimate destination — a second consecutive national championship — Gasso stressed the value of the journey her Sooners took this year.
In truth, it lasted longer than it ever should have, considering everything the Sooners had to battle through. Yet the Sooners still won 51 games and were one of the final six teams remaining at the Women’s College World Series when the season ended with a 4-2 loss to top-seeded Oregon on Saturday night.
“Every player on this team has a story of selflessness and hard work and teamwork,” Gasso said. “I’m incredibly proud of my coaching staff. They were phenomenal. They were trying to piece things together and pull things out of players. And, man, I've had so many different lineups and worked these athletes in different places. It's not about the ring right now, it's about the journey that we took.
“I'm so thankful for their efforts and so incredibly proud.”
The challenge began from the start of the season, with the task of replacing two-time national player of the year Keilani Ricketts at pitcher.
Kelsey Stevens, a sophomore who transferred in from Stanford, filled the gap adequately, showing more and more development as the season wore on.
Ultimately, she recorded the most pitching victories in an OU season with 38, passing Ricketts’ mark of 37. And she shows untapped potential that could continue to blossom over her final two years.
Injuries hit the Sooners hard, with Kady Self lost for the year and Lauren Chamberlain reduced to a fraction of the player who hit 60 home runs her first two years.
But players like Stevens, Shelby Pendley, Destinee Martinez and Brittany Williams kept the Sooners grinding forward. Martinez, Williams and Javen Henson represent a senior class that became the heart of an overachieving team.
Now, Chamblerain, Pendley and Georgia Casey are part of a six-player class who will be in those roles as seniors next season. With a strong core group of returning players, and a promising recruiting class, expectations will be just as high in Norman next year.
“(This year’s seniors) paved the way and they’re passing the torch to those of us that are now going to be seniors,” Chamberlain said. “(We’re motivated) to leave our legacy on the field as well because they left an awesome legacy. Big shout out to our seniors. Ending on a loss always fuels us for the next season and we have some really good kids coming in and a lot of returners, so I'm really excited for it.”