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Four Big 12 Teams Open NCAA Softball Regional Play
May 15, 2014

By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

Successfully defending a national championship is always a challenge. Oklahoma's task of winning back-to-back titles keeps getting tougher.

The Sooners had to replace one of the greatest players in softball history in Keilani Ricketts along with catcher Jessica Shults and pitcher Michelle Gascoigne, who was the winning hurler in OU's 4-0 victory over Tennessee in last year's Women's College World Series title game.

Headed into this NCAA Tournament Friday, the status of slugger Lauren Chamberlain is unknown. Chamberlain, who missed 23 games with a back injury, returned to the lineup recently but hurt her knee last Saturday against Oklahoma State.

"We've just been used to doing it without her for a while now," said junior Georgia Casey. "Whatever anybody throws at us, we've got it."

Chamberlain hit 30 home runs each of her first two seasons with Oklahoma and was a key factor in the Sooners winning the national championship. Getting back to the WCWS without her will be a challenge. The Sooners are also without sophomore outfielder Kady Self, who suffered a torn ACL two weeks ago at a time when she was one of the team's hottest hitters.

"I've done the lineup with Lauren out, with Kady out and Lauren in, and now with both of them out," Gasso said. "It depends who we're playing against and who's hot. We also have to protect our big hitters.

"There's no one player who's bigger than the program. This team, they're fighters, and they can pick it up."

Oklahoma won its third consecutive Big 12 title and is one of four Conference teams in the 64-team field. Baylor, like OU, is a regional host this weekend. Texas and Kansas were also at-large NCAA selections.

Norman Regional
Friday's first-round games
Game 1: Hofstra (33-13) vs. Texas A&M (35-20), 5 p.m.
Game 2: Bryant (32-20) vs. Oklahoma (45-10), 7:30 p.m.

Oklahoma in the NCAAs: The Sooners are the defending national champions. Oklahoma has made the NCAA Tournament in each of coach Patty Gasso's 20 seasons as coach. Oklahoma will be trying to reach the Women's College World Series for the eighth time in school history.

Oklahoma update: Sooners coach Patty Gasso was named Big 12 coach of the year for the third consecutive season and the seventh time overall. … Sophomore outfielder Kady Self suffered an ACL tear two weeks ago. She's hoping to be able to get healthy enough to return to action this season. Self was one of the Sooners' hottest hitters before she was hurt. … Bryant, OU's first-round opponent, is just in its second season of competing at the Division I level. If the seeds in the Norman and Knoxville regionals hold, OU could face Tennessee in the Super Regional; those teams met in last year's Women's College World Series championship series. … The Sooners advanced to the WCWS by beating Texas A&M in the Super Regional. …

What's next: The winner advances to the super regional against the winner of the Knoxville (Tenn.) Regional. The four teams in that regional are No. 10 seed Tennessee, Lipscomb, Virginia Tech and Charleston Southern.

Waco Regional
Friday's first-round games
Game 1: Houston (32-21) vs. Tulsa (50-7), 4:30 p.m.
Game 2: Northwestern State (30-20) vs. Baylor (42-13), 7 p.m.

Baylor in the NCAAs: The Bears are making their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and have made the 64-team field nine times in the last 11 years. Baylor is hosting a regional for the first time since 2009.

Baylor update: Senior Whitney Canion was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year for the second time. She won the award as a freshman in 2009 and has been granted two medical hardship seasons by the NCAA. The lefty topped the Big 12 in ERA at 1.36. Overall, she was 26-9 with a 26-9 record and 244 strikeouts in 199 innings. … Sophomore Heather Stearns also shined in the circle, going 13-4 with a 1.69 ERA. … Junior Kaitlyn Thumann finished fourth in the Big 12 with a .405 batting average while sophomore Linsey Hays had 12 home runs and 46 RBI to lead the team in those categories. … The winner of this regional will face the winner of the Athens (Ga.) Regional, hosted by No. 4 national seed Georgia. Baylor defeated the Bulldogs in the Super Regional to reach the 2011 Women's College World Series.

What's next: The winner advances to the super regional against the winner of the Athens (Ga.) Regional. The four teams there are UAB, North Carolina State, Chattanooga and Georgia.

Lafayette, La., Regional
Friday's first-round games
Game 1: Mississippi State (38-19) vs. Texas (32-21), 3 p.m.
Game 2: Texas Southern (31-18) vs. Louisiana Lafayette (44-8-1), 6 p.m.

Texas in the NCAAs: The Longhorns are in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th season in a row and 15th overall. This is the first time in four seasons that UT hasn't been a top-eight seed. The Longhorns reached the Women's College World Series last season.

Texas update: The Longhorns' 21 losses this season were the most in a season since going 29-23 in 2008. … Senior shortstop Taylor Thom was named the Big 12 player of the year while pitcher/designated player Tiarra Davis was named Big 12 freshman of the year. … Senior Brejae Washington became UT's career hits leader this season. She also is the career leader in five other offensive categories: triples, stolen bases, sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies. Washington led the Big 12 in hitting with a .427 average. … Texas is fourth in the NCAA statistics with a .343 team batting average. … The Longhorns are 6-9 against nationally ranked opponents this season.

What's next: The winner advances to the super regional against the winner of the Tucson (Ariz.) Regional. The four teams in that regional are No. 11 seed Arizona, LSU, Louisville and Boston University.

Columbia, Mo., Regional
Friday's first-round games
Game 1: Kansas (33-21) vs. Nebraska (40-15), 12:30 p.m.
Game 2: Bradley (27-30) vs. Missouri (41-16), 3 p.m.

Kansas in the NCAAs: The Jayhawks are in the bracket for the first time since 2006. Kansas has made 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to the Women's College World Series in 1992.

Kansas update: The Jayhawks' opener is a rematch with a Nebraska team that beat KU, 1-0, in Lawrence in mid-March. … Kansas has a young team with four freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup. … Sophomore shortstop Chaley Brickey was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection for the second consecutive year. Junior first baseman Maddie Stein, earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team. … Brickey leads the team hitting at .375 with 38 RBIs and a team-best 11 home runs. … Four Jayhawks are hitting .300 or better and have posted 110 extra base hits, including 31 home runs from eight different players. … In the circle, Kansas' pitching staff has a 2.59 ERA with 397 strikeouts and 15 shutouts. Sophomore Kelsey Kessler has a 2.41 ERA, 244 strikeouts and seven shutouts. Junior Alicia Pille has a 2.45 ERA with six shutouts and 125 strikeouts.

What's next: The winner advances to the super regional against the winner of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Regional. The four teams there are South Alabama, South Carolina Upstate, Alabama and SIU-Edwardsville.

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