The Oklahoma Sooners have already used their mulligan.
Falling to the James Madison Dukes 4-3 in eight innings on Thursday immediately flung the top-seeded Sooners to the loser’s bracket, and they’ll have to battle all the way back without losing if they hope to return to the Championship Series.
But they can only take things one game at a time, and up first for OU (50-3) is a date with the Georgia Bulldogs (34-22).
How to Watch:
- Oklahoma vs. Georgia: Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN
- Oklahoma vs. UCLA (If OU advances): Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
The Bulldogs will be confident, as they represent one of Oklahoma’s three losses on the year, a 7-6 victory to end the Sooners' unbeaten season on the front end of a doubleheader in Athens. But OU immediately fired back, run-ruling the Bulldogs just 30 minutes after experiencing defeat for the first time.
“I think that we have every capability to come back and play strong,” pitcher Shannon Saile said after the loss to James Madison. “It's loser go home now, and I don't think we want to go home. So I think next time we come out, we just got to throw punches early and fast and keep laying them down — play like we got nothing to lose.”
To get back to their winning ways, the Sooners are going to have to settle back in. Too many times against the Dukes, OU hitters seemed to have the weight of the world on their shoulders, swinging for the fences instead of just trying to get on base and trusting their teammates.
Perhaps getting a third look at Georgia pitcher Mary Wilson Avant will allow them to revert back to their “pass the bat” mentality.
“What we've been doing all season is just learning lessons. That's what we've got to do,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said after Thursday’s loss. “We got to take this game and learn from it. We have got to put every ounce of softball and energy and togetherness and fight that we have.
“That's what we're going to do. We're going to get prepared. We're going to take this (Friday) off that we have off and use it wisely, just kind of be ready to step in and play for a long time — as long as we can.”
Oklahoma has bounced back on the other two occasions they’ve lost this season.
Run ruling Georgia in Game 2, the Sooners also won their next three matchups with Oklahoma State after dropping their series opener to the Cowgirls.
How the Sooners got here:
- Oklahoma stunned in WCWS opener
- On the biggest stage, the Sooners flinched in Game 1 of the WCWS
- Meet the field of the WCWS
Freshman Tiare Jennings said they would use the same strategy they’ve used all year when dealing with losses.
“Just flush it, learn from it. When we've lost our couple games back in the season, we came out strong,” she said. “I think we're doing it for each other. We're doing it for our super seniors. We're coming out and just doing our thing.”
OU’s road is now a complicated one, but they don’t have to look too far into softball history to find another team that has dropped their first game at the Women’s College World Series and battled all the way back through the loser’s bracket to emerge champions.
In 2018, the Florida State Seminoles lost their WCWS opener to the UCLA Bruins. The Seminoles responded by winning six straight games, sweeping the Washington Huskies in the Championship Series to be crowed the queens of college softball.
“You have to have short memory here or you're out of this tournament before you even play your next game. They've been called out,” Gasso said. “We've watched Florida State do it not that long ago, so it can be done. But it's going to have to take a completely different approach, attitude, commitment as a team to stay alive as long as you can.”
Regardless of how much the Sooners want to erase the taste of defeat from Thursday, they now have to operate on a game-by-game basis, starting with the Bulldogs on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. The contest from USA Hall of Fame Stadium will be broadcast on ESPN.
“We can watch our future opponents, learn more about them, and come out ready to play Saturday,” Saile said. “I think the worst thing we can do is sit in what we did. We have to keep looking forward and play pitch-by-pitch.”
Should they beat Georgia, UCLAs await Oklahoma on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.
“Our goal is to stand on Monday. That is our focus,” Gasso said. “We got a long road to get there. We're going to do our best.”