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College Softball: Oklahoma's Jessica Shults and Brittany Williams, Booming Sooners

Early production of Hart graduate Shults, Canyon grad Williams leading Oklahoma among nation’s elite

Posted: April 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Oklahoma catcher Jessica Shults, a Hart High graduate, has a Big 12 Conference-leading 18 home runs on the season. The mark is only two shy of the Sooners' season record.

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The Oklahoma softball team's appetite was wetted a year ago when it just missed out on a trip to the Women's College World Series.

So was the appetite of Hart High graduate and Sooners sophomore Jessica Shults.

Now bolstered by fellow Santa Clarita Valley product, Canyon High grad Brittany Williams, Oklahoma has remained among the top teams in the nation and is once again gunning for a trip to the World Series, held June 2-8 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Last year, the Sooners lost to Washington in the Super Regionals.

"It gave us a taste of what it would be like," Shults says. "It made us more eager to get there."

Oklahoma (29-10, 2-2) is currently 14th in the nation according to the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll and 15th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.

A big reason is the SCV's softball talent, which is present on seven other teams in the top 25.

"Well, I'll say I recognize it," says Sooners head coach Patty Gasso. "There have been some very good players coming out of that area for a long time."

Shults and Williams are proof.

So far this season, Shults is starting at catcher and is leading the Big 12 Conference with 18 home runs, 53 RBIs and 101 total bases. Her .886 slugging percentage ranks third in the conference.

Meanwhile, Williams is playing mostly left field and leads the Big 12 with 38 walks, 10 more than the next closest hitter. Williams is also third in on-base percentage, something that has helped her longtime friend Shults.

For most of the year, Williams has hit either third or fifth in the lineup with Shults holding down the cleanup spot.

"She has not really had the freshmen mentality," Shults says of Williams. "She came in and knew what she wanted to do, and has been excelling. She doesn't play like a freshman."

It took Williams some time to acclimate to her new surroundings, but she says she entered fall camp focused and ready to make an impact.

When the season rolled around, she didn't waste any time.

The Sooners opened the year with an 11-2 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Feb. 10 in Tempe, Ariz.

Williams finished 1-for-2 with a walk and a triple.

"The first game, there were a little nerves here and there," Williams recalls. "I felt the nerves were going to help me. I should be confident of what I was taught to do, and just hit the ball and have fun."

Her first collegiate home run came a day later in a 9-1 win over Northwestern when she went 3-for-3 with a two-run shot.

Gasso describes Williams as quiet in the locker room, and very a pleasant surprise offensively.

She knew what the freshman was capable of after seeing her play in a travel ball tournament as a freshman at Canyon.

The team was comprised of seniors, Gasso recalls, but Williams was holding her own.

"She was hitting fourth with a bunch of players that were all going on to (NCAA) Division I colleges," Gasso says. "She's got a good eye at the plate. She's become a very good two-strike hitter. Very clutch."

Williams in turn credits Shults for helping her transition to the Division I level.

After all, Shults was in her shoes last year.

In her first season with the Sooners, the former Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley player of the year, All-CIF first-teamer and EA Sports first-team All-American set Oklahoma freshman records for home runs (15) and RBIs (62).

Among the many accolades she received, the top one may have been a NFCA second-team All-American nod.

Riding that momentum, Shults elevated her game heading into 2011 and now is only two homers shy of the program's single-season record of 20.

"I thought maybe I'd be hitting a couple home runs, but it's kind of cool," she says. "I'm excited because I've worked really hard. Our team works really hard every day. We are getting really good results."

Shults hit her first career grand slam on Feb. 19 against Louisiana-Monroe, and on Feb. 26 against Cal Poly Pomona, she sent a game-winning three-run blast over the wall.
But not only have her statistics leapt forward, so has her role on the team.

"I fell like she motivates us a lot when we are down," Williams says. "She tries to get up and cheer. Jessica is a great player. You will expect great things from her this year."

And over the next few years, says her coach.

The words "best in program history" even surfaced when it came to potential.

"Honestly, I have never had a four-time All-American," Gasso says. "I've had three-time All-Americans. Normally, freshmen come in and take time figuring things out. Shults did it so quickly, she put her name out there on the map. She definitely could be at the end of her career, has the capability of being called the best. But you have to stay true to who you are and stay hungry. And all of those things, I think she will do."

Knowing Williams, she will too.

And together, they could accomplish even bigger things.

After all, the Sooners haven't won a national championship since 2000.

A team with high-caliber players like Shults and Williams would love to have a hand in ending that drought.

 

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