Weekend Wrap: Oklahoma Still Searching for Another Gear as Regular Season Draws to a Close

The No. 2-ranked Sooners are still fine tuning the offense with just six games remaining in the regular season.
SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

NORMAN — Patty Gasso and the Oklahoma players took a bit longer to get to the postgame press conference on Sunday. 

The generally swift OU operation was delayed for a quick team meeting to wrap up the weekend series against Houston. 

The No. 2-ranked Sooners swept the Cougars, combining to post an impressive 23-2 margin of victory across all three games, but the weekend was far from perfect. 

Oklahoma stranded 17 total baserunners, including a series-high 10 on Sunday, failing to fully take advantage of all the chances the Sooners created by drawing 20 walks for the entire weekend. 

“A sweep of any team in the Big 12 is big,” Gasso said on Sunday. “We take that. Did we do it in absolute dominating fashion? At times, yes.

“… But we’re leaving runners in scoring position. We’re really trying to get that fixed. I don’t know, we’re in a little bit of a weird space right now but still finding ways to win games. Every team goes through it sometime during their season. Are we absolutely slumping? No, we’re not. But we are working to figure out how to get it all come together.”

Gasso is grading on a curve, of course. 

Sitting at 42-4, the Sooners are tied with Boston University for the fewest losses in the country. 

Oklahoma still holds a one-game lead over No. 1-ranked Texas atop the Big 12 standings, and OU leads the country in team batting average (.379) and is fourth in team ERA (1.61).

Leaving runners on is a unique byproduct of the OU offensive machine. 

Following the weekend sweep of Houston, the Sooners have accounted for 798 total bases as a team — 121 more bases than Texas, who ranks second in the conference in total bases — and Oklahoma paces the nation in on-base percentage (.483).

Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen takes coaching from OU associate head coach and hitting coach JT Gasso against Houston.
Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen takes coaching from OU associate head coach and hitting coach JT Gasso against Houston. / SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

Fair or not, the 2024 Sooners are compared to the standards of the past three national championship teams who stand as three of the best teams to ever take home the crown at the Women’s College World Series. 

This year’s Oklahoma team, led by seniors who have won three national titles in Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen, Rylie Boone and Nicole May, are used to the unrelenting spotlight. 

But that doesn't completely alleviate the immense amount of pressure every time the team steps onto the field. 

To navigate the tension, the team tries to look within for support. 

“We’ve done a very good job of just sticking together as a team,” Jennings said on Friday. “Either just talking it out, working it out, grinding it out at practice. Just finding those holes. Coach has done a very good job of just keeping us accountable at practice and not letting us get lazy or doing those things. Going back to the basics and just stick to what we know and that blue-collar mentality.”

At various points throughout conference play, Gasso has asked for more energy in the dugout. 

Getting invested in the at-bats of teammates keeps some Sooners from overthinking things, Alynah Torres said. 

True freshman Ella Parker takes a different approach to not make each individual moment too big. 

“Obviously there have been some situations that I’ve been put in that’s a lot of pressure,” she said Sunday. “But I think what’s working well is not (being) carefree but understanding I have nothing to lose. That’s been really freeing.”

True freshman Ella Parker closed the weekend hitting 2-for-4 on Sunday against Houston with an RBI-double.
True freshman Ella Parker closed the weekend hitting 2-for-4 on Sunday against Houston with an RBI-double. / BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

There’s no single reason as to why the Sooners left so many runners on base against Houston. It’s an issue that has stretched back a couple of weekends. OU combined to strand 26 teammates in its series victory over BYU and 12 runners in the two losses to Texas. 

Regardless of each individual instance, it’s a trend Gasso wants turned around in the coming weeks. 

“I don’t think it’s for lack of effort,” Gasso said Sunday. “I think it’s sometimes … wanting it too much, trying too hard. Swinging at pitches out of the zone that don’t allows us to hit them hard because we’re wanting to be 'that guy.' 

“… It’s just lack of being disciplined and saying what’s needed in this moment, right here and now.”

While the offense is still trying to find another gear, Oklahoma’s pitching staff continues to take steps forward.

Houston’s lone runs came off one swing of the bat, and the Cougars truly never threatened the Sooners all weekend. 

Sophomore left hander Kierston Deal now leads the Big 12 with a 1.01 ERA, and she pitched a pair of outstanding games last week.

Fresh off her first no-hitter last Tuesday against Tulsa, Deal didn’t allow a Cougar to get to second base on Sunday. 

Oklahoma sophomore pitcher Kierston Deal leads the Big 12 in ERA.
Oklahoma sophomore pitcher Kierston Deal leads the Big 12 in ERA. / SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

In her last 11 starts, Deal has a 0.42 ERA and has allowed just 19 hits in 50 innings pitched. She’s also thrown 53 strikeouts and allowed only 10 walks. 

Kelly Maxwell continues to be a rock as Oklahoma’s ace, surrendering just two hits in five innings of work against Houston on Friday. 

Nicole May was also in command on Saturday, striking out four Cougar batters and giving up just three hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings.

Ramping up into the postseason is a familiar process for May. She’s often pitched her best throughout her Oklahoma career when the calendar flips to May, though this year admittedly does feel different for the senior right hander. 

“It’s different with it being my last year,” May said. “It’s kind of exciting but sad obviously at the same time. So just trying to enjoy my teammates as much as I can, enjoy my time here as much as I can.”

Six regular season games remain for Oklahoma. 

This weekend, the Sooners head to Orlando to meet UCF before closing out the regular season in Norman against No. 6 Oklahoma State. 

Texas hosts Iowa State before closing the season at Texas Tech to try and close the gap at the top of the Big 12, and the Cowgirls, who trail OU by two games, will host Kansas before closing the year at OU.

Gasso hopes Oklahoma will fall back on the qualities on which she’s built the program to chase down another regular season conference title before OU looks to notch a fourth straight national championship. 

“I think we're trying to go back to not so much fundamentals but what our program stands for: hustle, hard work, gritty, team, putting team first, putting others first,” Gasso said. “… I'm old school and I'm still old school and I will be old school until I am done because that is what I grew up with. 

“That is what I believe those standards still should be living in this program and so that's kind of what we're talking about here.” 


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Ryan Chapman

RYAN CHAPMAN

Ryan is deputy editor at AllSooners and covers a number of sports in and around Norman and Oklahoma City. Working both as a journalist and a sports talk radio host, Ryan has covered the Oklahoma Sooners, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, the Oklahoma City Energy and more. Since 2019, Ryan has simultaneously pursued a career as both a writer and a sports talk radio host, working for the Flagship for Oklahoma sports, 107.7 The Franchise, as well as AllSooners.com. Ryan serves as a contributor to The Franchise’s website, TheFranchiseOK.com, which was recognized as having the “Best Website” in 2022 by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. Ryan holds an associate’s degree in Journalism from Oklahoma City Community College in Oklahoma City, OK.