Tennessee press conference following losing the WCWS
Oklahoma press conference after winning the 2013 WCWS
OKLAHOMA CITY — One year ago, Oklahoma’s softball team stood in line at Hall of Fame Stadium and watched Alabama accept the 2012 national championship trophy.
“From that last out we were the team to beat (for 2013),’’ Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said Tuesday night.
The Sooners were worthy of the burden, sweeping Tennessee 5-3 and 4-0 in the championship series of the Women’s College World Series.
Tennessee stood in line Tuesday night and watched the Sooners accept the 2013 national championship. The tears and the pride were mixed.
The Lady Vols won’t be burdened with a 2014 preseason team-to-beat tag. But they’re not going away, either.
“I see ourselves as being very good,’’ co-head coach Ralph Weekly said when asked about the future.
“We lose some great players, but we had six underclassmen on the field and a number-two ranked class coming in. We had some kids that didn’t get in the game tonight that are very good.’’
Indeed, Tennessee loses some great players. Six seniors played their final game Tuesday night in a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Sooners.
Two of them, All-Americans Lauren Gibson and Raven Chavanne, were invited back to Oklahoma City next week for USA national team tryouts. Gibson is a two-year Team USA veteran.
Pitcher Ivy Renfroe, outfielder Kat Dotson, versatile Melissa Brown and frequent pinch-runner Whitney Hammond all will be missed for different reasons.
But they collectively will be missed for winning. Winning a lot.
The senior class compiled a record of 202-53 and played in three WCWS.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss these seniors,’’ Weekly said. “They’re fantastic. But I think when you get to a certain level you’ve got to just be there every year.
“You don’t reload. You just keep going. You pick up the players to replace the players and try to keep going. Obviously, freshmen are never as good as seniors but I think we’ll have a very competitive team next year.’’
All-American shortstop Madison Shipman and pitcher Ellen Renfroe, who was heroic in NCAA tournament play, return.
They’ll be joined in the senior leadership cadre by veterans Melissa Davin and Tory Lewis.
“I think we’re going to have a great senior-led team,’’ Ellen Renfroe said. “The upcoming seniors, we’ve been to the World Series for the second time, so we know what it takes to get here and what it takes to win it all because we’ve played in a championship game.
“I think we’re gonna have a lot of teaching to do, but I think we’re ready for it and ready to get that done in the fall.’’
Hannah Akamine and Cheyanne Tarango were starters as sophomores. Rainey Gaffin and Lexi Overstreet got a worthy taste of action as freshmen with 38 and 22 starts, respectively.
Another freshman, Erin Gabriel, will be a key in 2014 as the Lady Vols look to replace Ivy Renfroe in the pitching rotation. Gabriel was 5-1 this year before suffering a torn labrum in her hip and undergoing season-ending surgery.
Freshmen Jennifer Burroughs, Anna Renfroe and Haley Tobler saw spot duty as role players.
“I know we’ve got some young girls who are really going to be really good,’’ Ellen Renfroe said.
“I think our entire freshman class, there are great athletes who have gone unrecognized because of our senior class.’’
In the moments after Oklahoma’s victory Tuesday night, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly gathered the Lady Vols in left field and reminded them of all they had accomplished.
They did, Ralph Weekly said, come very close to reaching their considerable potential.
“Yes, we did,’’ he said. “We played in a very tough conference and we had a lot of tough games. We finished point-27 (.027) out of the conference lead.
“We won the regional, we won the Super Regional and we won our way into the championship playoffs.
“This is a great team.’’
That would have won a national championship had it not run into an even greater team.