OU Softball: Oklahoma Shakes Off Slow Start to Open NCAA Tournament With Victory

Kasidi Pickering hammered a pair of home runs to help set the 2-seeded Sooners off on the right foot against Cleveland State on Friday night.

NORMAN — Pitching, pitching and more pitching. 

That’s what Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said was in store for her No. 2-seeded Sooners in this weekend’s Norman Regional at Love’s Field. 

Gasso proved to be right on Friday, as OU had to scratch and claw for everything against Cleveland State Vikings ace Melissa Holzopfel

The right-hander battled Oklahoma slugger Alyssa Brito for nine pitches in the third inning. OU’s third baseman fouled off six pitches, but Holzopfel rang Brito up to end the third and escape a bases-loaded jam, a moment emblematic of the early stages of the contest. 

But the Sooners dialed in on Holzopfel in the fourth, plating three runs to bust the game open. 

But both before and after the comfortable lead was in hand, Oklahoma senior Nicole May guided things home to power the Sooners to a 9-0 win in six innings on Friday night. 

"Cleveland State’s pitcher – she’s really good," Gasso said after the game. "Effective, handcuffing some of us, really tough on righties.

"... I give credit to Cleveland State, I do. I thought they made some really good plays. They were not afraid of us. No one here is afraid of us. We need to understand it’s going to be a dogfight. They came to battle. They made us better tonight."

Final Box Score
Final Box Score /

OU’s first trip through the lineup was generally unsuccessful against Holzopfel. 

Freshman outfielder Kasidi Pickering belted a solo homer in the second inning, but the was the only hit in the first nine at-bats for the Sooners (50-6).

Oklahoma started to make some headway the second trip around against the ace from Cleveland State (22-25). 

Jayda Coleman and Kinzie Hansen drew walks in the third inning and Tiare Jennings singled to load the bases up for Brito with two outs.

Holzopfel ultimately won that battle, unleashing a long, aggressive fist pump on her way back to the dugout, but the momentum eventually swung. 

"There were some battles that really got our team going," Gasso said. "I kind of look back at Alyssa Brito, even though she struck out. She fouled off, fouled off, those are the fighting at-bats we’re looking for."

Pickering led the fourth off with a single, and Alynah Torres moved pinch-runner Hannah Coor over to second with a sacrifice bunt. 

Senior outfielder Rylie Boone doubled OU’s lead with a soft flare to left field, then Coleman tripled to push the advantage to 3-0. 

Freshman Ella Parker capped off the frame with a single straight back up the middle to finally give May some run support and send her back to the circle in the fifth inning with a 4-0 lead. 

The senior right-hander fired a pair of strikeouts in the fifth, bringing her total for the night up to a season-high nine — just two short of her career-best. May ended each of her five innings with a swinging strikeout.

Pickering’s perfect night continued in the fifth inning as she blasted another solo shot to put OU up 5-0, prompting a wave of defensive changes by Gasso in the sixth inning. 

"It’s inspiring," Coleman said of Pickering and Parker's performances. "It kinda just gets me back to when I was a freshman, just so free and no expectations. I think we learn a lot from them.

"They just go up there and they swing the bat hard. I think sometimes for me personally, I start to overthink. I over gameplan. I over approach. They just kinda get me back to my foundation. It’s so exciting to watch their careers right now. They’re just doing so well.”

Karlie Keeney was given the ball in the circle to take over for May, which marked Keeney’s first appearance since her excellent Bedlam weekend. 

May allowed just three singles and no walks to pair with the large strikeout count in five innings of action. 

Parker put another pair of runs on the board for OU with a one-out double to extend the lead to 7-0, and Jennings ended the game with a two-run bomb in the ensuing at-bat.

Pickering finished a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, Parker and Jennings both hit 2-for-4 and Boone ended 2-for-3.

Oklahoma will meet Oregon on Saturday for a spot in Sunday’s Regional Final. 

Gasso will meet her longtime assistant Melyssa Lombardi for the first time, when the Sooners and the Ducks meet at 2 p.m. at Love’s Field. 

Cleveland State will take on Boston University following OU and Oregon in the weekend’s first elimination game. 

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Ryan Chapman


Ryan is deputy editor at AllSooners and covers a number of sports in and around Norman and Oklahoma City. Working both as a journalist and a sports talk radio host, Ryan has covered the Oklahoma Sooners, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, the Oklahoma City Energy and more. Since 2019, Ryan has simultaneously pursued a career as both a writer and a sports talk radio host, working for the Flagship for Oklahoma sports, 107.7 The Franchise, as well as AllSooners.com. Ryan serves as a contributor to The Franchise’s website, TheFranchiseOK.com, which was recognized as having the “Best Website” in 2022 by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. Ryan holds an associate’s degree in Journalism from Oklahoma City Community College in Oklahoma City, OK.