DENTON, Texas – Just as she had done so many times in her career, Oklahoma senior Lauren Chamberlain came to the plate in a critical spot in the game Thursday night at North Texas. And just like she had done before, Chamberlain came through when it mattered most for her team.
The only difference Thursday night was that, with one swing of the bat, Chamberlain cemented herself as the greatest home run hitter in the history of college softball as No. 5 Oklahoma (43-7) defeated North Texas (16-30), 6-2, in front of 691 fans at Lovelace Stadium.
For 13 years, UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman was the gold standard with 90 career homers. The record books now have a new name at the top as Chamberlain blasted No. 91 when the Sooners needed their emotional leader most.
Trailing 2-0 through three innings, junior Whitney Ellis got the comeback started with a one-out walk. Senior Georgia Casey followed with a walk of her own, and two batters later, freshman Kelsey Arnold also walked to fill the bases.
Chamberlain was 0-2 entering the at-bat in the fourth inning, striking out looking to lead off the game and grounding out softly to the pitcher with one out and one on in the third. But with the bases loaded and just one out, Chamberlain would get her best chance at history.
After looking at a strike from North Texas starter Kenzie Grimes, Chamberlain took a pitch to even the count at 1-1. In the third pitch of the at-bat, Chamberlain crushed the offering to straight-away center field, easily clearing the fences as her teammates gathered at home plate to greet her.
It was the sixth grand slam of Chamberlain’s career, her 19th of the season and the 20th time as a Sooner that a home run from the Trabuco Canyon, Calif., native gave the Sooners a lead they would not relinquish.
The home run came in her 212th career game and 584th at-bat. For comparison, Nuveman hit her 90 home runs in 264 games and 691 at-bats.
“I feel really, really ecstatic and I feel like I’m finally able to finally fully enjoy the moment,” Chamberlain said after the game. “I think the pressure of it along the way and the highs and lows, especially the lows, have made this moment so much sweeter. I think I’m able to celebrate now and kind of breathe a little bit and just relax and play softball.”
Knowing that she had hit more home runs than any player in college softball history had not yet sunk in for Chamberlain.
“I don’t think it’s going to set in for a while, but I think when I take the jersey off for the last time and think back on those moments I’ll realize what just happened,” she said. “Right now it’s so easy and nice to focus on my team and focus on celebrating with them.
“They’ve been making me feel so good throughout this whole process, and they’ve been there for me. They’ve hyped it down just a little bit to keep me level, which is outstanding and I appreciate them so much for that because I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without them.”
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said that she’s proud of the way that Chamberlain has represented the program.
“To be able to connect history to our program, and to Lauren, is always going to be something special to us,” Gasso said. “She’s left more than a legacy on our program. That’s a very tough record to break, it really is, especially in this day and age with some great pitchers out there.
“Lauren’s just been so clutch and has had some key home runs in important at-bats. I think we sometimes just take it for granted that we get to see it every day. She’s pretty remarkable, and it’s a moment we’ll always remember.”
Oklahoma added another run in the fifth.
Junior Erin Miller tripled to lead off, but was still there after a pair of groundouts to short. Casey stepped in next and lifted a fly ball to right field, but Jennifer Beardsley couldn’t make the routine catch and it fell in to give OU the 5-2 lead.
The Sooners then picked up an insurance run in the sixth.
Arnold led off with a single to left field before moving to third as Chamberlain laced a double to right center. With two in scoring position, senior Shelby Pendley sent a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Arnold and give the Sooners a 6-2 advantage.
While the home run from Chamberlain was the main story, the pitching performance of junior Kelsey Stevens was also notable for OU.
Stevens pitched the first 5.0 innings and gave up just two runs on four hits while striking out four and walking three to improve to 8-1 on the year. It was her longest effort and her first win since allowing one hit in five shutout innings against Missouri State on March 8.
Freshman Paige Parker threw the game’s final two innings. She struck out four and walked just one while holding the Mean Green hitless and scoreless.