With her star freshman — one of them, anyway — getting her college softball career off to an unprecedented start last week, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso looked up from the box score and figured she’d better say something.
Even after batting 12-of-13 with five home runs and 30 total bases in four games last week in El Paso, TX, young players like Tiare Jennings need guidance.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gasso said on Wednesday. “First thing I said to her was, ‘I don’t want to bring you down, but I don’t know that you’ll ever do that again — so don’t try to.”
That goes for the whole OU team. Now ranked as high as No. 2 nationally and with pundits proclaiming this as Gasso’s best team after just four games — it may be, but this is a coach who’s won four College World Series crowns — Gasso said there’s no real reason for her to remind her players how difficult this game can be.
The game will do it for her.
“I think it’s coming,” Gasso said. “As we go along, I think we’re stepping the ladder up and up and up each week into tougher competition. I think we will quickly get humbled here very soon if we feel like we’re bigger than the softball world. We’ll get humbled very quickly.”
The Sooners won last week’s four games by a combined score of 70-2. That probably won’t happen again — will it?
“I think it was probably one of the most flawless performances that I’ve ever had in the beginning of a season, without doubt,” Gasso said.
OU plays UTSA and Sam Houston State in Huntsville, TX, on Friday, and then plays two games at Houston on Saturday.
“That’s a very tough program,” Gasso said of the Cougars. “We have Arizona State, who is ranked in the top 25, next weekend. We have Missouri coming. We’re going to face some very tough challenges here. And I’m excited for it. I like how we’re starting and slowly stepping the ladder up into our competition. It will give us a chance to really learn who we are.”
Jennings was named Big 12 Conference and national player of the week — not bad for your first time on a college diamond.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, I think, in my career,” Gasso said. “Everything she hit was hard. It looked very easy. She wasn’t wowed by it. She just kind of went about her business, and you felt that. The team wasn’t wowed over it. Everybody was just kind of business-as-usual.”
Jennings is now batting .923 on the season. It’s all downhill from here — isn’t it?
“Not that it was easy,” Jennings said, “I was just thinking base hits. I honestly had no idea what my stats were. I don't really keep track. So after the game, I was kinda like, 'Wow, I actually did that. That's pretty cool.’ ”
Another freshman, Jayda Coleman, is 7-of-12 (.583) with a home run, two doubles, six RBIs, three walks to and two hit-by-pitch. Those stats are almost human by the Jennings standard, but they’re still amazing for a first-year player.
In all, OU hit 24 home runs in four games, including an NCAA-record 13 in one game. Another NCAA mark fell when OU twice hit five bombs in an inning.
“We’re not a program that’s about records,” Gasso said. “We want to win championships. If records come with that, that’s great. But we really didn’t even talk about it, quite honestly.”
After last week, maybe everyone could temper their expectations a bit. A 68-run differential seems like it’s from another planet.
Good thing for Gasso there is plenty of veteran leadership on this team. Even the Sooners’ savvy pitchers can offer advice to the youngsters who made it all look so easy in El Paso.
“I would say like just, having the confidence in yourself because you can do it,” said senior left-hander Giselle Juarez, “but remembering this game is a game of failure and you’re not always going to be perfect.”
Juarez is a good example of the ups-and-downs college athletes can face. She was on top of the softball world two years ago, pitching for OU in the national championship game. But then an arm injury took her down, followed by a pandemic. It’s been a long, slow, frustrating, painful journey — one that she can impart lessons from to her teammates. Juarez was back in the circle for two games last week — she pitched six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk — but she’s not close to 100 percent yet, Gasso said.
“Sometimes I still get stuck in that (chasing perfection),” Juarez said. “But … it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So I mean, just like, I don’t know. Just enjoying the game, not getting caught up in stats and what not and just enjoying your teammates and the fun that you’re having on the field. Because it comes to an end very quickly.”