Oklahoma’s quest for their fifth National Championship begins in Oklahoma City on Friday.
Finishing the regular season 42-2, Patty Gasso’s No. 1-ranked Sooners captured their ninth straight Big 12 regular season title, and they look to win the conference tournament and catapult themselves into the NCAA Tournament.
But if OU’s final series against Oklahoma State is any indication, they’ll need their pitching staff to raise their game to the next level to dominate the postseason.
Though the pitching staff combined to strike out 20 Cowgirl batters over the three-game series, they issued entirely too many free passes, walking 12 batters and hitting another five.
Gasso said that’s an area the staff can improve on heading into postseason play, and it’s been a focal point of practice this week.
“Putting them in those stressful situations with tough counts, runner on base, close score, just keep putting them and pressing them until they figure out what works for them, and that’s all I can do,” Gasso said during her Zoom press conference on Wednesday. “I don’t want to make it easy for them. I want to keep battling against them so they’ll battle back, and that’s the best idea we have… That’s what we just got done doing.”
To the staff’s credit, they responded on Saturday and Sunday against the Cowgirls, striking out 17 batters in their two wins even dealing with traffic on the base paths. Oklahoma also can count on freshman Nicole May, who allowed just one run over 5 1/3 innings with the Big 12 Championship on the line in Stillwater.
As they’ve done most of the year, if they can keep the ball in the park, OU’s pitchers will be backed up by the best fielding defense in the country and one of the most explosive offenses in NCAA softball history.
Though she wasn’t named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Jayda Coleman flashed the glove a pair of times against the Cowgirls, firing up her team with diving catches in the outfield.
Gasso said she’s not surprised by the impact Coleman has made as she lives to compete.
“Both of her parents are coaches and you can expect that, they’re competitors as well. They’re very aggressive and feisty, she’s very much a product of her parents,” Gasso said. “This kid plays to win. She plays to win the game every time. If we’re playing Uno, if we’re playing hopscotch, whatever we’re doing, she’s playing to win.”
After facing off against Coleman on the travel ball circuit, May said she’s happy to share the same dugout with her in college.
“I’ve played against her before and she’s the type of person you hate, hate playing against. Like who is this girl? She’s so loud, she’s so annoying, like that type of thing,” May said. “But once she’s on your team, you’re like let’s go.
“She has that fun and goofy energy. She brings it all the time every day.”
Also hitting .500, Coleman is one of eight Sooner hitters who enters the Big 12 Tournament hitting better than .400.
Up first for the Sooners will be the Baylor Bears at 2 p.m. on Friday from the USA Hall of Fame Stadium.
In their two games this season, OU outscored the Bears 18-1.
But Gasso said the Sooners have to be aware of the threat Baylor pitcher Gia Rodoni poses.
“Rodoni has been around, this is her sixth year. I really respect that young lady,” she said. “She’s stuck with Baylor. Went through some injuries as well and she really helped get their program maintaining top status.”
Gasso also warned of Baylor’s speed on the base paths, as they do a good job of manufacturing runs and putting pressure on opposing defenses.
Following the contest with the Bears, the Sooners will meet the Texas Tech Red Raiders at 7:30 p.m.
“Texas Tech has got a dangerous team too, I think they’ve got some dangerous pitching,” Gasso said. “Underrated pitching and a team that can swing it.
“Defense is going to have to be really good this weekend, especially on Friday.”
Oklahoma dispatched of the Red Raiders 40-0 over their three game series, but with only two outings on Friday to punch their ticket to the championship game, OU will have to stay locked in. Both Friday games will be streamed on ESPN+.
If the Sooners emerge victorious in their Friday slate, they will punch their ticket to the Big 12 Championship game on Saturday at 3 p.m., which will be broadcast on ESPN2. Oklahoma would meet the winner of Pool B which consists of Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State.
“We don’t look at it and go, ‘We’re good, we’re headed to the championship.’ No. Absolutely not,” Gasso said. “We’ve got to play. We’ve got to play our game. We’ve got to pitch our game.
“So I’m looking forward to it.”