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May 5, 2014

OU softball clinches Big 12 title

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One day before Oklahoma softball began its series against Texas Tech sophomore pitcher Kelsey Stevens expressed her goal for the first game.

"Shutout," she said.

Of course she completed that goal with a 5-0 win against the Red Raiders to begin the series -- a series in which she recorded 11 strikeouts and surrendered just two hits. The next day she made her 45th appearance of the season and notched 11 strikeouts for a consecutive day en route to a 5-1 win against Tech.

Stevens' 22 strikeouts over the two-game stretch were the most of any Sooner past or present not named Keilani Ricketts. In last season's Women's College World Series, Ricketts fanned 25 batters in consecutive games against Washington and Tennessee.

If Stevens would've started Sunday's game, she could have tied Florida State pitcher Lacey Waldrop for most wins in the country (31) while accomplishing a goal Stevens and the Sooners had been chasing all season: winning the Big 12 crown.

But she didn't start that game. Junior Shelby Pendley did. The start was the first of Pendley's collegiate career, and it didn't lack drama.

With her first win, Pendley could lead OU to at least a share of the conference championship and put the Sooners in prime to position to win the title outright in a week's time. But Pendley wasn't nervous.

"I just looked at it as the same as coming in at the end of a game, just at the beginning," she said.

Three months ago no one -- not even OU coach Patty Gasso -- had a sense of how capable Pendley is in the circle. Nobody knew how she would handle her first start, either.

She responded by shutting out the Red Raiders in five innings. She struck out five, walked three and gave up just two hits.

Pendley showcased her two-way ability, too. She smacked two hits, three runs-batted-in and scored three runs in three at-bats.

Thanks to a five-run first inning, a six-run second inning and a two-run third inning, Pendley never had to pitch the sixth or seventh. OU had run-ruled Tech 13-0, making the Red Raiders use four pitchers in five innings.

The outing from Pendley, though, solidified her ability in the circle and her worth to a team that has hopes of heading back to the WCWS after clinching a share of its third straight Big 12 championship.

"I'll start her anywhere she wants to go because she is that kind of athlete," Gasso said. "Watching her out there today, this is the most consecutive innings she's thrown.

"To really see her pitches move and see her keeping Texas Tech hitters guessing, she was really, really good today. I'm very proud of her and we're going to call on her in postseason."

And she'll have to.

With the elation the Big 12 title brought the Sooners came the sobering knowledge that sophomore and Edmond native Kady Self tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

Self was hitting .443 at the time of her injury -- .553 in 14 conference games -- and slugging .757. She ranked third in the Big 12 in hits during conference play with 21, just three hits behind Pendley who leads the Big 12.

Self had to leave the game during OU's win last Saturday. Gasso confirmed the injury Sunday but didn't rule out Self playing during the postseason.

"What we are going to work hard on is getting that leg as strong as possible, all the muscles that surround that knee as strong as possible," Gasso said. "With no meniscus tear, that possibly could allow her to get that brace on if the leg is strong enough to get that brace on a keep everything stable. She might have an opportunity to finish with us."



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