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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Softball

Cougars look to upset No. 4/6 Sooners in Rawlings Classic


Led by Shelby Miller and Maya Thomas, the Cougar offense will have its work cut out against the Sooners staff and their 1.30 ERA. | Justin Cross / The Coguar

No matter the sport, having a strong out-of-conference schedule goes a long way in solidifying a tournament resume. After missing the postseason the last two years, a matchup against a top 5 program can help prepare the Cougars for the long road ahead.

The opportunity presents itself as the Cougars welcome defending national champion No. 4/6 Oklahoma to Cougar Softball Stadium for a doubleheader Saturday as part of the Rawlings Classic. The Cougars rank 1-6 all-time against the Sooners, facing them for the first time since 2013.

The Cougars enter the weekend at 3-4, winners of two straight after toppling Houston Baptist 3-1 on Wednesday night. Sophomore catcher Brooke Vannoy powered the Cougar offense, accounting for all three 3 RBIs, including a two-run blast to left center, her first home run of the season.

The Sooners travel to Houston after going 2-2 in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Mexico, both losses coming against ranked opponents. Then ranked No. 1, the Sooners fell 3-2 to No. 2 Auburn and 1-0 to No. 13 Washington.

The Cougar offense will be in for a test as Sooners’ pitchers rank No. 35 in the NCAA in ERA at 1.30, giving up five runs in 27.0 innings.

The staff is led by Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 Women’s College World Series, junior Paige Parker. In two seasons in Norman, the left-hander has racked up a record of 66-10 with a 1.64 ERA and four perfect games.

If the Cougars hope to get anything going on offense against the Sooners, they’ll have to rely heavily on the duo of sophomore outfielder Maya Thomas and senior utility player Shelby Miller.

Thomas has been a constant on the base paths to start the young season, going ranking No. 21 in the NCAA in average and hitting .632/.650/.632. Miller on the other hand has been queen of the long ball, tied for No. 2 in the NCAA in home runs (4) and No. 4 in RBIs (12).

In addition to welcoming the defending national champions, Oklahoma coming to Houston represents the ability of Cougar coaches Kristin Vesely and Jessica Shults to take on their alma mater. Both Vesely and Shults’ names adorn the Sooner record book, leading the offense during their times there.

A two-time All-American, Vesely was a four-year letter-winner in both softball and soccer for the Sooners and ranked No. 1 in all-time hits when she graduated. She still ranks in the top 10 in career batting average, games played, hits, at-bats, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases and stolen bases.

Shults was a key contributor to the Sooners 2013 national championship team, starting 51 games at catcher, while being one of the consistent in the field, holding the school record in fielding percentage and putouts. Now in her first season with the Cougars, this will be Shults’ first time facing her alma mater.

Game one of Saturday’s double-header is the annual “Striking Out Breat Cancer” game with first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m. with game two scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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