As the eyes of the softball world descend on Norman, a pair of Player of the Year finalists will do battle.
Washington pitcher Gabbie Plain will be matched up against Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo, as the nation’s top pitcher and top hitter will compete all weekend.
Both players have staggering numbers in their own right.
For Plain, the Huskies’ ace has thrown over 227 innings this season, punching out an eye popping 331 batters while only allowing 45 walks for the entire year.
HOW TO WATCH
Game 1: Friday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Game 2: Saturday, 2 p.m., ABC
Game 3 (if necessary): Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN
Alo is chasing home run history, as she’s added 28 bombs to her career tally this year, driving in 78 RBIs off of 72 hits and a .477 batting average.
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said Plain will be one of the biggest tests her explosive lineup faces all season.
“She’s gonna be a challenge, no question. The way she tunnels pitches is extraordinary,” Gasso said in a Zoom press conference on Tuesday. “She can move the ball to all quadrants, so it’s not like you can eliminate much because she can go to a lot of places.”
But Plain will be challenged as well as the Australian facies an offense the likes of which she’s never seen.
Alo grabs the headlines, but she’s just one cog in Oklahoma’s rendition of the Big Red Machine. She actually sports the third-best batting average amongst OU hitters who have played in at least 10 games.
Freshman leadoff phenom Tiare Jennings holds the batting average crown, hitting .488 on the season, driving in a team-leading 84 RBIs while also hitting 25 homers, good for second on the team.
Jayda Coleman is second on the team with a .478 batting average, adding 46 RBIs. Coleman also puts immense pressure on the defense with her speed, as she’s stolen a 19 bases this season.
A third Sooner in Kinzie Hansen has hit 20 home runs, adding 56 RBIs on her. .455 batting average, and the list goes on. Seven different OU players who have appeared in at least 10 games are all hitting over .400, with another three hitting better than .375.
It will be a marathon for Plain to get through the Oklahoma lineup over and over this weekend, even though she has had a rubber arm all year long.
“I know she’s thrown a lot of innings, so it’s us not chasing things out of the zone, which is very hard because she makes you think something and then something else shows up,” Gasso said. “We just want to keep her out on the mound and really work on this and find ways to get runners on and find ways to score runs.
“It’s going to definitely be a challenge, but we are certainly training for it.”
READ MORE OKLAHOMA VS. WASHINGTON:
As the OU hitters work their way through solving the Plain riddle, their pitchers will have to step their game up another level and really limit the free passes.
“Our seniors have been there and done that,” Gasso said. “They need composure, they need focus and really the goal is to keep the ball in the park and let our defense play.”
Freshman pitcher Nicole May has come on strong to close the season, giving her team big innings in the regular season finale at Oklahoma State, and throughout postseason play. In preparing for her first Super Regional appearances, she said she won’t feel any extra pressure matching up against Plain this weekend.
“I personally don’t think that way. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I need to go up to (Plain’s) level, I need be whatever.’ Like no, I’m a good pitcher. I’m fine with myself,” she said. “I don’t want to focus on another person’s game and I can just be focusing on mine. And that’s where my headspace is kind of at.”
Gasso should be able to call on all of her pitchers, whether it be May or seniors Giselle Juarez and Shannon Saile, as the Sooners were able to navigate their regional without putting enormous pitch counts on any of their three stars in the circle.
The Sooners and the Huskies get their chance to punch their ticket to the Women’s College World Series starting Friday afternoon at Marita Hynes Field in Norman.
Game 1 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. on Friday, and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Saturday’s Game 2 will also start at 2 p.m., and the game will be the first collegiate softball game ever carried on ABC. Sunday’s if necessary game is scheduled for 3 p.m. on ESPN should the series go the distance.
“The bigger the game, the more memories that you’ll always have,” Gasso said of her message to the team. “So recognize that. Don’t be afraid of that.
“We embrace the challenge… just put your heart out on the field.”