The quest for a fifth national championship begins today for the Oklahoma Sooners.
But first, they must dispatch of NCAA Softball Cinderellas, the James Madison Dukes.
How To Watch:
- WCWS Game 1: Thursday, 11 a.m. vs. James Madison, ESPN
Led by star pitcher Odicci Alexander, the Dukes mirror the Sooners in a lot of ways.
First of all, they know what it takes to win. James Madison is 39-2 this season, tearing through 9-seeded Tennessee and 8-seeded Missouri en route to Oklahoma City.
Alexander enters the Women’s College World Series with the 13th-best ERA in the country (1.14), and as a team, the Dukes boast the 19th-best batting average (.317).
James Madison is even familiar with Oklahoma’s favored manner of scoring runs, as the Dukes rank eighth in the nation by averaging 1.61 home runs per game.
“Their offense is aggressive. Their defense is good, very good,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said in a Zoom press conference on Wednesday. “When you look at their numbers, a lot of their numbers match up a lot to us. They don’t strike out a lot. They’re gonna be a very tough team and we know that.”
Gasso also said that she was actually really excited for the matchup.
“I am kind of a far away fan of theirs. I haven’t watched them a lot because we’re just never in the same locations, but knowing that we may match up I got to watch them and they’re a fun team to watch,” Gasso said. “They are passionate. You can feel their energy.”
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Gasso also said she had a ton of respect for the player that Alexander is.
“She is an absolute star. She kind of runs the show on that team,” she said. “You can feel it. She’s their motor.
“Without question she is good, so we know we’re gonna have to bring our A-game.”
However, the Dukes haven’t faced a team with players the caliber they’ll see on Thursday.
Oklahoma’s lineup boasts a trio of 20-plus home run hitters, including Kinzie Hansen, NFCA Freshman of the Year winner Tiare Jennings and USA Softball Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo.
Then there's Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Grace Lyons and her 14 bombs, catcher Lynnsie Elam with another 12 and third baseman Jana Johns with 11.
As explosive as they’ve been all year, Alo said the Sooners just need to play within themselves to find success in their World Series opener.
“I think this team is very special and I think that If we just continue to play our game and do what we do and not try to do too much … we’re gonna be in a really good spot,” Alo said.
The Sooners will be riding high too, as they just disposed of one of the best pitchers in the country in Gabbie Plain when OU swept the Washington Huskies in last weekend’s Super Regional. But if anything goes wrong in their first game, Gasso said she’d be leaning on her experienced players.
“I think it’s very important that you come in with confidence,” Gasso said. “Sometimes you can disrupt confidence with nerves, and that’s one thing I count on my upperclassmen to make sure everyone has a balanced approach and attack.”
The first step in capturing a national title is to win the first game at the Women’s College World Series, and OU won’t have to wait long at all on Thursday to try and get off on the right foot.
The Sooners and the Dukes face off at USA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City at 11 a.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
And Oklahoma knows nothing will come easy against the Dukes in their opener.
“We’re not taking anything lightly,” Gasso said. “They earned their way here.”