Oklahoma’s juggernaut softball now sits where no one thought they would at the College World Series: 0-1 and facing elimination.
Turn this thing around, play well, win four games in a row, or a potentially historic and unforgettable season become little more than a statistical footnote.
Most home runs? A dozen runs per game? A galactically huge slugging percentage? National Player of the Year? National Freshman of the Year?
All a fun little blip if OU doesn’t beat Georgia on Saturday morning … and then Alabama or UCLA on Saturday night … and then win two more times on Sunday, either against Oklahoma State or James Madison.
“I think that we have every capability to come back and play strong,” said OU pitcher Shannon Saile after it was JMU who sent the Sooners to the loser’s bracket with a 4-3 stunner on Thursday. “It's loser go home now, and I don't think we want to go home.”
To hang out at their second home for just a bit longer — that is, to at least make next week’s best-of-3 WCWS Championship Series — the Sooners are going to have to play much, much better than they did against the Dukes.
“I think we haven't really been challenged like that all year,” said second baseman Tiare Jennings. “Usually, we make adjustments quicker. It's not like us.”
OU, a 14-time CWS competitor and four-time national champion, scored a season-low three runs (the Sooners scored two in an exhibition victory over Team Mexico) against a JMU team that made its first WCWS field and was driven to prove it belongs on the big stage.
The key was JMU pitcher Odicci Alexander, who had nine strikeouts and kept OU’s unrelenting lineup guessing for seven innings.
But the Dukes also made plays defensively and had timely hitting — two things the Sooners lacked.
Coach Patty Gasso wondered all year if her team’s RPI and relatively weak strength of schedule would eventually hurt her club. The SOS got better as the year went along, but in handing OU just its third loss of the season, JMU showed it was on the same level as either of the other squads OU lost to in Oklahoma State and Georgia.
Now it’s do or die. Georgia has already proven it can beat the Sooners. UCLA-Alabama certainly has the ability. So do OSU and JMU.
Oklahoma’s backs are against the wall.
“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,” Saile said.
“You learn from it, you move on,” said Jennings. “You just go out, take it one pitch at a time, just keep going.”