The No. 1-seeded Oklahoma Sooners haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been dang close.
Now 49-2 for the season after their 4-2 win over the No. 16-seeded Washington Huskies (45-13) in Game 1 of the Norman Super Regional, the high flying Sooners have embraced their mistakes, learning from them to come out better.
Look no further than Friday’s hero Nicole May.
In OU’s first loss of the year, the Sooners actually took a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning against the Georgia Bulldogs on April 21.
May was brought in to get Oklahoma out of the sixth, before letting the Bulldogs tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. Facing eight batters in the inning, May allowed three hits and a walk, extending Georgia’s upset bid.
Two innings later, Georgia would complete the comeback, and handed May her first taste of defeat at the collegiate level.
“She was under extreme pressure, and learned a lot,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said after Friday’s game against Washington. “And that’s one thing about our team… you can learn a lot more, get a lot better when you learn from the things that you’re not doing well or mistakes that you’re making.”
Since the loss, May has been arguably Oklahoma’s best pitcher. Allowing no free bases via walk or hit batters, May only surrendered two runs against the Huskies to outshine Washington’s National Player of the Year Finalist Gabbie Plain in the circle.
In Game 2, it’ll likely be Giselle Juarez or Shannon Saile’s turn to take the circle.
Both have had their own struggles as well. Juarez has allowed too many home runs over the last month of the season, and Saile constantly teeters on the edge between aggressively attacking all areas of the strike zone and walking too many batters.
Should they heed Gasso’s advice to just keep the ball in the park, Oklahoma’s pitching staff has one of the best defenses in the country to back them up, and they’ve already made their presence felt in the series.
OU ended the game with their heads up defense. After initially failing to record a double play in top of the seventh inning to end Game 1, first baseman Taylon Snow saw Washington coach Heather Tarr try to pull a fast one and send Taryn Atlee home. Snow rifled the ball home to catcher Kinzie Hansen, who tagged Atlee out to seal the victory.
After the game, Hansen credited their Gasso for preparing the Sooners for every possible outcome in practice.
“We work on things, we call it just chaos. We put our fastest runners on the bases and we just tell them to be aggressive out of their minds,” Hansen said. “So when she came home, it wasn’t something that we weren’t prepared for.
“It’s just something that we work on almost every day. Our runners at practice go crazy on the bases, and I think that’s what makes our defense great.”
If the pitching can hold up, the OU bats should be able to continue to add run support.
Already getting six innings to study Plain in the circle first hand, the Sooners will look to improve on their four run, five hit performance.
Those efforts will likely be spearheaded by Oklahoma’s own Player of the Year Finalist Jocelyn Alo, who went 1-for-2 off of Plain with a solo home run and a walk in their first matchup. Even in her first at bat where Plain struck Alo out, she connected on a foul ball which she sent well beyond the fence had it stayed fair.
So long as the Sooners can learn from their mistakes against Plain in the batter’s box in Game 1, as they have done all season, they will have a golden opportunity to punch their ticket back to the Women’s College World Series for their fifth straight appearance.
First pitch for Game 2 of the Norman Super Regional from Marita Hynes Field is slated for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.