Oklahoma already has leadership from captain Lynnsie Elam. The Sooners have pop national player of the year Jocelyn Alo. They have precocious playmaking from probably the two best freshman in the nation, Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings. And of course, OU gets elite pitching from a trio of aces in Giselle Juarez, Shannon Saile and Nicole May.
That’s a recipe for success, as the Sooners head to Oklahoma City with the best record (50-2) in college softball.
But Kinzie Hansen is often the straw that stirs the Sooners’ drink.
Whether it’s clutch hitting or game-changing power, timely throws or game-ending tags behind home plate, or just having an influence on OU pitchers in the circle, Hansen has taken her team to another level during Oklahoma’s postseason run.
“She’s a very confident young lady,” said OU coach Patty Gasso. “She knows she’s good. She doesn’t walk around and tell you that, but she has a style about her that you know she knows.”
As No. 1 overall seed OU prepares to face upstart James Madison University in their first-round game at the College World Series on Thursday morning, the Sooners will continue to rely on the versatile skills of the sophomore catcher from Norco, CA.
Hansen is hitting .453 this year (fourth on the team), but that average jumps to .556 in eight postseason games. Her Big 12 Tournament takeover — five home runs, eight RBIs in three games — made an emphatic statement about not being on the 2021 All-Big 12 team.
“She really started getting hot in the postseason, specifically in the Big 12 Tournament,” Gasso said. “I don’t think she she had, by her standards, the greatest Big 12 regular season, and maybe she’s trying to make up for that right now.”
Hansen has become a fan favorite not only for her plate performance, but for her plate presence. The confidence with which she approaches every at-bat comes out in her facial expression.
“I’ve actually gotten lot of comments about my face on the field,” Hansen said with a laugh. “My style and the way I play is generally very aggressive. It’s kind of the mindset of, No. 1 being the catcher, but it’s just who I am. In the postseason, for sure, it’s definitely kicked up a notch.”
Hansen has 21 home runs on the season (third on the team) to go with eight doubles. She’s also third on the team with 58 RBIs and fourth with a .927 slugging percentage.
Oklahoma has spread around the clutch hits between about nine different players at times, but Hansen has certainly delivered her share, including a fifth-inning RBI single that turned into a three-base error — a “little league home run” — to tack on two insurance runs in a 4-2 Super Regional victory over Washington in Game 1, and a fourth-inning solo home run that helped run rule the Huskies in Game 2.
“She loves big moments,” Gasso said. “She’s not afraid of ‘em. Offensively, she loves big moments.”
She’s delivered a handful of timely defensive moments, too, and has emerged as one of the driving forces for an Oklahoma defense that leads the nation in fielding percentage.
Grace Lyons is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the country. Coleman and Nicole Mendes have made game-saving plays in the outfield. But it’s Hansen whose consistency behind the plate gives confidence to her pitching staff — or anyone else who might need to throw ball home.
That came to pass on Friday as Hansen ended the game with a perfectly applied tag-out at home plate on a throw from first baseman Taylon Snow to end an unconventional 4-6-3-2 double play.
In the fourth inning of Friday’s Game 1 victory, Hansen gunned down Washington speedster Sami Reynolds trying to steal second base. Reynolds was 7-of-9 on steals this season, but her leadoff single was simply erased by Hansen’s powerful right arm.
“I feel as if one of my best assets is probably throwing the ball,” said Hansen, who added that the team practices “chaos” situations on the base paths during practice to simulate facing fast teams. She also said she was prepared for Washington trying to run: the Huskies were successful on 63-of-72 steals this season in just 59 games.
“I was watching the scouting report,” she said, “and I was like, ‘They love to run.’ “
Enemy base runners have only attempted four steals on Hansen this season, and they’ve only swiped two bases, which Gasso said is “just mind-boggling.” Including Elam’s time at catcher this year, opponents have stolen just three bases this season in nine attempts against OU.
“That is just a staggering, phenomenal statistic to me,” Gasso said. “Because every other place you look at, opponents are 40-for-47, things like that. … Shoring up that really helps our infield tremendously.”
For comparison, Washington opponents were 41-of-48 on stolen bases this season. Every other team in the Big 12 has allowed at least 21 stolen bases. OU leads the Big 12 with a .333 stolen base percentage allowed; only one other team (Texas Tech at .641) is better than 70 percent.
“I can feel her every time she’s at the plate (batting). But what she gives us behind the plate is even more valuable,” Gasso said. “She is a very daunting presence. She’s got an absolute gun behind the plate.”
Said Hansen, “Being the aggressor and having the edgy mentality in the way I play has gotten me a lot of places — not only on the field, but also off the field. I think it benefits me a lot: hitting, catching, first base, or if I go visit my pitchers to get ‘em going.”
Gasso said Hansen fits right in with her long lineage of big-time catchers.
“A hundred percent,” Gasso said. “Good leader, gamer, confident. Yeah. ... Yes, Kinzie Hansen is definitely made from the same cloth.”