CLEARWATER — This week, Shannon Saile will be on the mound for perennial national title contender Oklahoma.
But the former Land O’Lakes and Florida International softball standout will not be doing it as a certified ace at the inaugural St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational.
No longer the workhorse of a staff, Saile is now part of the Sooners’ rotation. The junior, who transferred in the summer, could start a game or two at Clearwater’s Eddie C. Moore Complex. She could even enter as a reliever.
The one thing she will not do is have the ball in her right hand every day.
“It’s definitely a different role,” Saile said.
There were naturally some adjustments.
After being told by her travel coach told she was too wild and too timid to be a pitcher as a freshman in high school, Saile worked tirelessly to become a No. 1 starter. She held that title at Land O’Lakes and FIU, leaving opposing batters lunging and lurching as she racked up a dizzying amount of strikeouts — and innings pitched.
This past summer, she decided to leave the Panthers, partly so she could join a team that had a legitimate shot at the national title. At first, FIU was reluctant to grant her release. When the Panthers relented, they restricted Saile from transferring to any other school in the state or in Conference USA.
After looking at a few SEC schools, Saile decided on Oklahoma, which is ranked third in the nation.
“There is a championship mindset there,” Saile said. “The staff does such an amazing job with the athletes on the team to get them ready to play for a title and eventually go pro. That’s what I wanted in the future for my career.”
Saile, though, was not the only addition to the Sooners’ staff.
In November, Giselle Juarez, a former All-American at Arizona State, announced she was transferring to Oklahoma.
Juarez and Saile join Parker Conrad (a Missouri transfer) and Mariah Lopez in a crowded rotation. They are trying to fill the void left with the graduation of Paige Parker and Paige Lowary.
Sooners coach Patty Gasso did not want to put too much pressure on any pitcher. So she decided the best approach was to replace the bulk of her staff by committee.
The reduced role meant Saile would no longer be able to produce big-time numbers or the accolades that came with them.
At FIU, Saile was named the Conference USA freshman of the year in 2017 when she recorded 234 strikeouts. Last year, she was 14th in the nation in strikeouts (267) and sixth in strikeouts per seven innings (10.3 average).
Btu the stats matter less than winning a national title.
“That’s the main goal,” Saile said. “Plus, I like the situation I’m in. I’m with a great group of pitchers who all want to see each other do well. We’re all good friends, and we want to make each other better. Being the No. 1 pitcher is much harder. It’s a physical grind, especially on your shoulder.”
This past weekend was Saile’s first appearances as a Sooner. She threw three innings as a reliever in the second game of a season-opening tournament. Her first start did not come until the fifth and final game. Saile tossed a one-hit shutout.
“There were a few nerves, but they went away quickly,” Saile said. “I was excited just to be able to pitch and have that Oklahoma across my chest.”
Pitching in big games is nothing new. Last year, Saile threw a shutout against nationally-ranked Florida. The pitching coach for the Gators at the time was Jennifer Rocha, who now has the same position at Oklahoma.
“I was impressed,” Rocha said. “She did a nice job and you could see her poise and just her grittiness come through in that game.”
Rocha said Saile already had the physical tools, particularly with the speed and spin on her pitches. What Rocha has worked on is developing Saile’s mental approach.
“It’s more just the preparation and game-planning and just trying to slow the game down,” Rocha said. “Shannon has definitely showed a willingness on to work on that, and has adjusted well to being a part of a staff.
“To win a title, you need more than just one strong pitcher. I think Shannon knows that. There are others here who can take away the stress of trying to carry a whole team, and that’s big.”
St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational
Where: Eddie C. Moore Complex, 2780 Drew Street, Clearwater
Thursday’s schedule: Oklahoma State vs. LSU, 1 (ESPNU); California vs. Texas, 1 (ESPNU); Oklahoma vs. Kentucky, 4 (ESPNU); Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma, 7 (ESPN3)
Friday’s schedule: Kentucky vs. Hofstra, 9:30 a.m.; Florida State vs. Ohio State, 9:30 (ESPN3); Oklahoma vs. Florida Atlantic, 10; Tennessee vs. Notre Dame, 10 (ESPNU); Texas vs. Florida Atlantic, 12:30; James Madison vs. California, 12:30; LSU vs. Oregon, 12:30 (SEC); Oklahoma vs. Florida State, 1 (ESPNU); Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame, 3; Kentucky vs. Utah, 3; Tennessee vs. Minnesota, 3 (ESPN3); LSU vs. Texas, 4 (ESPNU); Utah vs. Oklahoma State, 5:30; Oregon vs. James Madison, 5:30 (ESPN3)
Saturday’s schedule: Oregon vs. Florida Atlantic, 10; LSU vs. Ohio State, 10; Texas vs. Kentucky, 10 (SEC); Hofstra vs. Oklahoma, 10 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. James Madison, 1; Ohio State vs. Utah, 1; Florida State vs. LSU, 1 (ESPN3); Oklahoma State vs. California, 1 (ESPN3); Notre Dame vs. Minnesota, 4; Hofstra University vs. Oklahoma State, 4; Kentucky vs. Oregon, 4 (ESPNU); Tennessee vs. James Madison, 4 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Tennessee, 7; California vs. Notre Dame, 7 (ESPN3); Minnesota vs. Florida State, 7:30 (ESPN3)
Sunday’s schedule: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, 10 (ESPNU); Minnesota vs. California, 10 (ESPN3); James Madison vs. Kentucky, 1 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Hofstra University, 1 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. Florida State, 4 (ESPN3); Florida State vs. Tennessee, 7 (ESPN2)
Tickets: Advanced daily tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children ($25 and $20, respectively, day of the event). Tournament passes are $75 for adults, $50 for children.
More info: Visit stpeteclearwatereliteinvite.com
Contact Bob Putnam at email@example.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.