A Special Group of Seniors Aim for Another Title
The OU softball team has established a championship mindset, a foundation built over time with a commitment to hard work and consistency. Sooner softball has the expectation of success both on and off the field. And, perhaps no class has ever personified this mindset as well as the current senior class.
Through highs and lows, these six seniors set forth a new level of expectations. Each has played a key role, adding to the consistent success of the program. Many of these moments will go down in Sooner Softball history and college softball history too. Here are a few of the unforgettable moments from each of the members of the 2019 Oklahoma Sooner Softball Senior Class.
If one word could describe Oceanside, California native Fale Aviu, it would be clutch and no performance was more clutch than game two of the Women’s College World Series during Aviu’s sophomore season.
In 2017, Aviu delivered a scoring single in the 5th inning adding to the Sooner lead against Washington. She was also involved in the first Sooner score of that game as well. In the 2nd inning, Leah Wodach laid down a squeeze bunt that barely stayed fair and Aviu headed home, avoiding a tag at the plate.
For Aviu, she was simply doing what she does, whatever it takes to score a run.
“I started in basketball doing the spins. I always wanted to be the kid no one could get out,” Aviu said. “I was trying my best to not get tagged, that’s all I could think to do. I’m not going to run into a tag, I’m going to try to figure out every single way to be safe.”
That run and the clutch RBI in the 5th inning helped lead the Sooners to a 3-1 win over Washington and an eventual spot in the Women’s College World Series Championship Series.
During her freshman season, Caleigh Clifton recorded the final out for the Sooners in its championship series against Auburn. The freshman second baseman stayed down on a hard-hit ground ball and triggered absolute pandemonium in the Sooner Nation with a perfect throw to first base. But, the following season, Clifton would deliver an equally important homerun.
On May 21, 2016, Clifton stepped to the plate in an elimination game in the Norman regional. The Sooners had put themselves in a tough position after losing to North Dakota State. After knocking off Arkansas and avenging its loss to North Dakota State, the Sooners had to beat Tulsa twice. Oklahoma trailed 4-2 in the 10th inning. Things were looking bleak until Nicole Mendes led the inning with a single. Clifton followed launching a screwball over the left field wall to tie the game. The Sooners eventually rallied to win the game.
At the time, not many may have grasped the magnitude of that moment for Clifton. On May 21, 2014, just two years before, her father unexpectedly passed away. As an Oklahoma native, Clifton grew up wanting to play for Oklahoma. Her father had been her biggest fan, and on that day two years later, she was able to deliver perhaps the biggest hit of her career.
The moments that Shay Knighten creates at the plate and in the field are endless. During the Sooners’ dramatic 17-inning win over Florida, Knighten launched what would end up being the game winning home run in the top of the 17th inning to send the Sooners to a game one victory in the best of three series.
Against Auburn, during her freshman season, Knighten made one of the biggest defensive plays of the post season when she knocked down a hard-hit ball at first base and threw the potential tying run out at the plate. The Sooners would hold on and eventually win a National Championship against Auburn.
But, before the big-time defensive play against the Tigers in that Championship series, Knighten launched a clutch home run against Alabama, kicking off the 2016 Women’s College World Series with a Sooner win.
“She’s built for big time moments,” Sooner hitting coach, JT Gasso said. “You’re not going to beat her in those moments. I wouldn’t want anyone else stepping up in those big-time spots.”
Kylie Lundberg’s career and her impact cannot be measured in stats. Lundberg has been a key figure in pinch-hits but also in her ability to act like another coach in the dugout.
What many labeled as the biggest OU/Texas softball series in recent years, the Sooners needed Lundberg in a big way to help generate some breathing room for the Sooners. In front of a sold-out crowd in Austin, Lundberg drove a first pitch double to right center field, giving the Sooners a necessary insurance run and helped lead the Sooners to a 3-1 win, and an eventual series sweep.
Bridge Creek High School product Raegan Rogers is without a doubt the most improved player on the roster. Having served as a pinch runner through most of her first two seasons, Rogers has played a key role as a defensive replacement in the outfield and pinch hitter.
As the 2019 season kicked off, Rogers got a spot in the starting line-up, starting only two games prior to her senior season.
Rogers’ key moment came during the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitation. The Sooners were struggling to get its offense going against Notre Dame. Rogers launched a home run over the left field wall that gave the Sooners a commanding 6-2 lead. The Sooners would go on to win the game against the Irish and improve to 7-0 on the season. During her senior campaign, Rogers continued her solid work at the plate setting career highs in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Where do you even start with Sydney Romero? The Sooner senior from Temecula, California was finally named the Big 12 Player of the Year, after putting up numbers worthy of the award each of her first three years.
But, where do you start with a Player of the Year candidate? There was the incredible night during her freshman season where she single handedly eliminated her sister’s Michigan Wolverines. She has registered almost 100 multi-hit games and finished her senior season with a career high in home runs. There are also countless, big-time defensive plays that defy logic. And the never-ending smile and confidence she permeates through the entire locker room and the Sooner fan base are also noteworthy.
But, its safe to say, there will not be a more memorable moment in Romero’s career than in 2017 against Tulsa. Fueled by the ‘Power of the 3’, Romero stepped to the plate after Knighten delivered a single. On her first pitch, Romero launched a game winning home run over the left field wall sending the Sooners on to the if-necessary game, en route to a Super Regional and eventual National Championship.
“We had a plan to get on and move runners over and it worked in our favor,” Romero said. “We knew we had to fight as a team… and it wasn’t going to be easy. Running in to home plate, seeing my team gathered there, it was an awesome feeling.” – BSM