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OU Softball: Meet Oklahoma's Super Regional Opponent, the Clemson Tigers

Led by USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finalist Valerie Cagle, Clemson is making its second straight Super Regional appearance.

Oklahoma punched its ticket to its 13th straight Super Regional with a dominant 16-3 win over the Cal Golden Bears on Sunday.

Now, the Sooners must turn their attention to an upstart program that has already enjoyed plenty of success.

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich announced the establishment of a softball program on March 14. 2017, and the Tigers have already carved out a role on the national stage.

Starting play in 2020, the Tigers have qualified for back-to-back Super Regionals, falling to Oklahoma State last year in the Stillwater Super Regional.

Clemson pitcher Valerie Cagle and her 16-seeded Tigers will be tasked with shutting down an Oklahoma offense that plated 38 runs in three games in the Norman Regional, as the two football powers will meet for the first time on the softball diamond at Marita Hynes Field this weekend.

Meet the Clemson Tigers:

Record: 49-10 (18-6 ACC)

Head Coach: John Rittman (904-394-3 all time, 154-43 Clemson)

SB - Clemson Tigers, John Rittman

Clemson coach John Rittman has successfully guided the Tigers through the program's formative years. 

A longtime Stanford coach, John Rittman took the Clemson job as the program began play in 2020.

He spent 18 years with the Cardinal before serving as Kansas’ Associate Head Coach from 2015-17.

A longtime member of the United States National Team setup, Rittman is plenty familiar with Patty Gasso’s OU program.

Key Wins: Northwestern (15-2 in five innings on Feb. 17, 3-2 on Feb. 18), Georgia (7-1 on Feb. 21), South Carolina (10-0 in five innings on March 28, 4-3 on April 11), Virginia Tech (5-4 on April 30)

Key Losses: Tennessee (1-0 on Feb. 25), Florida State (7-0 on April 6, 4-1 on April 6, 3-2 on April 7), Liberty (5-4 on April 26), Virginia Tech (5-4 on April 28, 3-1 on April 29), Duke (2-0 on May 12 in ACC Tournament)

Clemson Regional: Defeated UNC Greenville 17-2 (5 innings), Defeated Auburn 7-0, Lost to Auburn 5-2, Defeated Auburn 5-1

Clemson initially looked as if it would breeze through regional play, battering Auburn 7-0 on Saturday. 

But the visitors responded, toppling Clemson 5-2 in the first game of Sunday's Regional Final to force a winner-take-all Game 2. 

Rittman started Cagle in the first game, and she gave up three runs on four hits in three innings pitched in the first contest, but the Clemson star rebounded in the decisive battle. 

Cagle pitched all seven innings, allowing just one run while finishing 1-for-1 and an RBI at the plate as Auburn pitched around her, walking the right-hander three times. 

Staff Ace: Valerie Cagle

SB - Clemson Tigers, Valerie Cagle

Clemson pitcher Valerie Cagle ranks in the top 10 nationally in both batting average and ERA. 

What can’t Cagle do?

The Clemson ace made the cut as a top three finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year for her work both in the circle and with a bat in her hand.

Cagle has played in all 59 of Clemson’s games this season, pitching in 36 of those contests.

She’s posted a record of 25-6 and she’ll enter Super Regional play with an ERA of 1.20. Cagle has fanned 186 batters in 186 innings of work in 2023, issuing just 32 walks and allowing only 18 extra-base hits, with six of those being home runs.

More than just a pitcher, Cagle also ranks in the top five nationally in batting average (.467), blasting 19 home runs and driving in 57 RBIs.

The Sooners hosted one of the nation’s top pitchers in Washington’s Gabbie Plain in the 2021 Norman Super Regional, but they’ll have to corral a two-way star next weekend to return to Oklahoma City.

Other Stars to Watch: McKenzie Clark

SB - Clemson Tigers, McKenzie Clark

Clemson outfielder McKenzie Clark (7) is a key cog in the Tigers' offense at the top of the lineup.

Center fielder McKenzie Clark is tied for second on the team with 12 homers, and she’s third with a .341 batting average.

Drawing 32 walks, Clark has posted an on-base percentage of .448. and she’s successfully swiped 11 bags on the base paths in 2023.

Clark’s aggressive approach has led to plenty of strikeouts this year, as she paces Clemson with 42, but her power and defense more than make up for her propensity to chase pitches.

Caroline Jacobsen

SB - Clemson Tigers, Caroline Jacobsen

Caroline Jacobsen is tied for second on the team with 12 home runs in 2023 for Clemson.

Right fielder Caroline Jacobsen joins Clark with 12 bombs this year, and she’s driven in 48 RBIs.

Jacobsen has also added 13 doubles, and she’s drawn 23 walks.

In Clemson’s do-or-die Regional Final, she delivered an RBI to help push the Tigers past Auburn 5-1.