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OU softball: Michelle Gascoigne set to face former coach and teammate in super regional

NORMAN — Patty Gasso, often unprompted, will tell you which of her players will make good coaches. Michelle Gascoigne was one of those.

“That was a no-doubter,” Gasso said.

In 2014, the year after her national championship senior season with the Sooners, Gascoigne was still on campus working toward a degree in education. She was student teaching by day and helping out the team in the late afternoons.

“Doing both at the same time, it kind of made me realize that I really did just want to coach,” Gascoigne said.

Now in her fourth season as Northwestern’s pitching coach, Gascoigne will stand in the visitor’s dugout this weekend in Norman as the Sooners and Wildcats begin their super regional series.

Gascoigne is not only facing her former school and coach, but also the teammate she shared the circle with. Keilani Ricketts was the ace of those Sooner staffs from 2010-13, but it was Gascoigne who shut out Tennessee in the 2013 World Series-clinching win.

The Benicia, California, native went 49-7 in her Oklahoma career with a 1.65 ERA. Gascoigne would likely have been the No. 1 pitcher for any other program, or at any other time for OU. Her four years just happened to align with Ricketts.

“She was one of the best teammates I've ever had,” Ricketts said, “and one of the most selfless teammates I've ever played with.”

Ricketts and Gascoigne have taken different paths in the six years since they starred for the Sooners, but those will soon converge. While Ricketts still plays professionally, they’ll compete this weekend as coaches.

“It was kind of bittersweet seeing we were paired up with them,” Ricketts said. “That one of us would have to knock the other out.”

•••

While Ricketts possessed the more dominant arm, Gascoigne was the more natural coach. When she played for the Chicago Bandits in National Pro Fastpitch, Gascoigne spent more time mentoring rookie pitchers than improving her own game.

“That kind of clicked with me, like, ‘OK, I think it's time,’” Gascoigne said. “It wasn't a limitation with my arm. In my heart I was more excited to be recruiting or to be helping the younger ones."

The Bandits had several Northwestern players on their roster, and that’s how the relationship between Gascoigne and Northwestern coach Kate Drohan began.

The Wildcats are two wins away from making their first Women’s College World Series appearance since 2007. Freshman pitcher Danielle Williams (31-6, 1.38 ERA) is perhaps their most important player, and Drohan credits Gascoigne for her development.

"I think Michelle Gascoigne is one of the best pitching coaches in the country,” Drohan said. “I think Oklahoma and her playing experience there has a lot to do with that.”

This will be Gascoigne and Northwestern’s second trip to Norman this season. The Wildcats were twice shut out by the Sooners in OU’s home tournament.

Those early March games gave Gascoigne a chance to face her old family, to go through the emotions of being back in her second home. This time is different.

“This weekend you have to take care of business for your own team,” she said.

•••

Ricketts is in her first season as a volunteer assistant at Oklahoma, but she’s more like a player-coach. Although she’s done pitching for the Sooners, Ricketts is staying in shape for the upcoming NPF season while also competing for a spot on the 2020 Olympics team.

She’s an active participant in practice, giving OU’s lineup the kind of left-handed look they almost certainly won’t face in games.

“When she came here to help us, I freaked out,” freshman Grace Green said. “She hit me one time in practice and I’m like, ‘I’m never washing my hands. I hope this bruise stays here forever.’ She was one of my idols, and now we joke around with each other.”

This is Ricketts’ first spring stateside since she graduated. Ricketts played for Toyota Shokki in Japan during the NPF offseasons, but after getting married in 2017, she decided not to go back this year for personal and professional reasons.

The drawback of that decision is money. There’s more to be made in Japan. The salary cap for NPF teams is $150,000, according to a 2016 ESPN story. Rosters have to consist of at least 18 players, making the average contract worth a little more than $8,300 over a three-month season.

“It's tough for girls to play because it's really not a profession to make a living off of,” Ricketts said. “It's only in the summer and you have to have a job outside of it.”

Ricketts doesn’t make much as a volunteer assistant, but she’s able to bring in extra cash by helping with Gasso’s softball clinic.

When the Olympics are over, coaching might be the most stable next step.

“It's like putting my feet in the water to see what it’s like,” Ricketts said. “I didn't realize I was gonna like it as much as I have.”

•••

Oklahoma and Northwestern might as well host a celebrity softball game after the super regional. Though led by veteran head coaches, both dugouts feature staffs of recent college softball stars.

Joining Ricketts on OU’s side is graduate manager Delanie Gourley — a former All-American pitcher at Florida.

Northwestern has Gascoigne, volunteer assistant Courtney Gano and graduate manager Abby Ramirez. Gano has represented Team USA after a college career at Washington. Ramirez was an All Big-Ten infielder at Michigan.

“You can take both staffs and create an All-American team right there,” Gasso said. “One of the highlights of my career as I get older, it’s seeing these young females get into coaching.”

***********************************************************

SUPER REGIONALS

Northwestern vs. OU

When: 2 p.m., Friday

Where: Marita Hynes Field, Norman

TV: ESPN2 (Cox 28)

Radio: KEBC-AM 1560

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma pitchers Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts, at left, celebrate with teammates  during an NCAA Softball Regional in 2011. Both former OU stars are now coaching -- Ricketts at OU and Gascoigne at Northwestern. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]</strong>

Oklahoma pitchers Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts, at left, celebrate with teammates during an NCAA Softball Regional in 2011. Both former OU stars are now coaching -- Ricketts at OU and Gascoigne at Northwestern. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f6c8ac8de60a70bd6391f7f71cb61fc1.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma pitchers Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts, at left, celebrate with teammates during an NCAA Softball Regional in 2011. Both former OU stars are now coaching -- Ricketts at OU and Gascoigne at Northwestern. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" Oklahoma pitchers Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts, at left, celebrate with teammates during an NCAA Softball Regional in 2011. Both former OU stars are now coaching -- Ricketts at OU and Gascoigne at Northwestern. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> Oklahoma pitchers Michelle Gascoigne and Keilani Ricketts, at left, celebrate with teammates during an NCAA Softball Regional in 2011. Both former OU stars are now coaching -- Ricketts at OU and Gascoigne at Northwestern. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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