Oklahoma will eventually lose a softball game.
Somewhere, sometime, some team is going to make some plays at the right time and the Sooners won’t be on their A-game and OU’s perfect record will pick up a blemish.
If so, what then? Has coach Patty Gasso prepared her postgame speech in the event of such a glitch?
“It's funny,” Gasso said. “No, I haven't. Because it will (happen) eventually.”
No. 1-ranked OU goes into this week’s Big 12 Conference series against Kansas with a flawless 25-0 record. More than just flawless, the Sooners are dominating almost every team they face. Last week’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State produced wins of 9-7, 10-2 and 22-2.
Marita Hynes Field, Norman
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- Saturday, 1 p.m.
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There might be pressure building. The women’s gymnastics team, for instance, won its first 20 competitions this year before inexplicably losing to Denver in the Big 12 Championships. It was the first time in nine years OU failed to win the conference trophy. Coach K.J. Kindler said Wednesday morning that now her team can refocus on its real goal: this weekend’s NCAA Regional action in Alabama. Kindler said losing can actually be turned into a good thing — a kick start into the postseason.
Gasso said much the same thing Wednesday evening.
“Sometimes you're almost like, ‘I’m glad it's happening now, you know, before we get into postseason,” Gasso told SI Sooners on a video press conference. “So I'm not even thinking about that. I’m sure it's coming.”
Gasso said she attended a “roundtable” of OU head coaches Wednesday and of course her team’s perfect record came up.
“One of my questions was almost exactly what you asked,” she said. “And the response is — it's something that I'm really hanging on to — is don't. Don't ever think you're No. 1. Always know you're at least No. 2, if not lower, because No. 1s can get complacent.”
Gasso’s point is clear. She noted that OU’s current Ratings Percentage Index — RPI, a measure of who you’ve played as much as how you’ve played, and a metric the NCAA uses — is only No. 16 in the nation.
Gasso has hammered that message home to her players. It’s only March. Winning these regular-season games is nice, but it’s hardly the goal for a program like Oklahoma.
“Coach is really big on us not thinking we're ranked No. 1,” said junior utility player Grace Green. “So like, right now, she always tells us that doesn't matter right now. It only matters when the World Series is over. Like, that's when it's all said and done. Like, that's who's No. 1. It doesn't really matter what our rankings are right now. It doesn't really matter how many wins we have.”
In case of emergency — an Oklahoma loss, in this case — there will be no breaking of glass or anything else. Don’t expect any players-only meetings or shouting matches or tears. A loss is a loss. It’s a natural part of the baseball/softball dynamic. Even the most dominant Major League teams lose 60 games every year.
In NCAA softball history, UCLA holds the best winning percentage of all time. The Bruins went 54-2 in 1992, a winning percentage of .964. Arizona went 64-3 two years later, a winning percentage of .955. OU won it all in 2013 when Gasso’s Sooners went 57-4, a .934 winning percentage.
For Oklahoma to become the first team to win 100 percent of its games, miracles will have to happen.
“This game is crazy,” Green said. “Like, it might just not go your way one day and like, sometimes that happens.”
Anyway, at its most basic, losing is a part of life. Setbacks happen. We fall down. What counts is how you respond, what you do after getting up.
When the time comes, Gasso will be eager to see how her team responds.
“I like to think of it as opportunities,” said senior pitcher Shannon Saile. “When you fail, I think it shows what you need to work on, and ultimately what we want is to be holding the trophy up at the end of the season. And we know that one failure, multiple failures along the way to get to that road is what we're going to need in order to see where we are lacking. It's important to feel those moments so you can learn from it.”
Gasso need look no further than Wednesday’s practice.
“That's what our practice looked like today,” she said. “Really aggravated me. But the message is, ‘You're not good enough. You're not good enough, we are not No. 1. We are No. 16, according to RPI. So we've got to keep working to get better. And that's the message that will continue throughout the season, whether we go 45-0, or we lose five games in the near future.
“That’s keeping them humbled and understanding, ‘You're not who you think you are.’”
Said Green, “Obviously we want to keep winning and keep getting better. But if we do lose, we're just going to come back the next week and work like we have been. Because it's been working for us.”