Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
A deep dive into one night of Sooner softball that told us a whole lot about Sooner softball
Writing about coach Patty Gasso’s Sooner softball team, the challenge is thus:
Do you write about it in the context of its being the No. 1 team in the nation and because it’s the No. 1 team everything’s great until something particularly dumb or bad happens to make things not great.
Or do you write about it as though you might have written about coach Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut women in the fall of 2017, when they were unbeaten and headed to another NCAA tournament after winning the previous four, six of the last eight, in the midst of what became 14 straight Final Four appearances?
I tend to go with the latter.
Teams create their own expectations and should they create them unreasonably high, tough luck, it’s part of greatness’ price.
About that, something happened during Tuesday’s 3-0 Oklahoma victory over 13th-ranked LSU that’s bound to bug Gasso until it’s fixed.
Yet, given the rest of what happened at Tiger Park, broadcast nationwide on ESPN2, the story, victory aside, was not limited to that one alarming thing. Other things happened, too, and we’ll hit them and you can decide for yourself what to think about this team as it edges toward what could be a third straight national championship, its fifth since 2016 and its seventh since 2000.
That cause for alarm?
After Jayda Coleman walked to open the top of the third inning, three different LSU pitchers retired 15 straight Oklahoma batters, and when did that last happened?
It could be seasons and seasons.*
* I looked up every game it could have occurred this season and the closest thing to it was Northwestern’s Lauren Boyd retiring 10 straight Sooners on March 17. Then I looked up the Odicci Alexander game, the 2021 WCWS opener, when the James Madison ace beat OU, but topped out at retiring nine straight batters.
That 15 straight Sooners made outs, even if years since it last happened, indeed feels alarming.
In one night, OU’s team batting average fell from .380 to .371, its on-base-percentage from .469 to .461 and its slugging percentage from .692 to .680.
Perhaps more alarming is the fact opponents are beginning to pitch OU like they pitch to no other team, maybe unlike any team has ever pitched another team.
Because regularly, the Sooners knock a pitcher or two out of the circle, yet only recently have teams began throwing several pitchers at them on purpose.
Last Thursday, six different Texas Tech pitchers threw a single inning against OU, allowing the same three runs LSU allowed. Good thing Tech score the same number of runs as LSU, too.
The next day, Tech went more conventional, threw three pitchers and fell 6-0.
The next day it was hard to tell what the plan was because OU scored two runs in each of the first three innings and won 10-0.
Against the Tigers, LSU clearly had a plan.
Raelin Chaffin had retired five straight Sooners, the last two on strikes, only to make way for Emilee Casanova with two outs in the fourth inning. Casanova cruised, retiring four straight, only to be replaced by Alea Johnson, who retired six more.
Hard to know if analytics are telling opposing coaches such approach might work, or if they’ve simply decided they must do something — the kitchen sink approach — because the day Tech arrived in Norman, OU entered hitting .390, slugging .704, with a .475 on-base percentage.
It’s kind of a tribute.
Desperate, opponents are going WAY outside the box to slow the Sooners.
Also, it’s kind of working.
Meanwhile, in other areas, the news couldn’t be better.
Sooner pitching hasn’t given up a run in 30 2/3 innings and hasn’t given up an earned run in 33 and 2/3 innings, when Texas’ Mia Scott took Nicole May deep in the first inning of a 10-2 Sooner victory on April 2.
That and Jordy Bahl may finally be all the way back from the injury that cost her most of the last postseason.
She entered Baton Rouge with a 1.42 earned run average over 74 innings, a good bit higher than May’s 0.43 over 64 2/3 and Alex Storako’s 0.73 over 66 2/3.
Against the Tigers, she dropped that figure to 1.19 and, after walking Danieca Coffey, the first batter she faced, walked nobody the rest of the game while striking out 13.
Bahl entered with a 3.68-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. She left with 4.04-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That and the Sooners still know how to make the opposition pay.
That’s what happened in the second inning, when LSU first baseman Raeleen Gutierrez failed to make a routine catch, allowing Jocelyn Erickson to not only reach first base, but second base, too.
Next up, Kinzie Hansen’s up-the-middle single plated Erickson and, two batters later, Alyssa Brito’s ninth home run of the season — out of the eight hole!!! — notched what would become the final score.
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So, the Sooner bats are heading the wrong direction a little. Also, one season after Jocelyn Alo led OU’s offense to splits of .371/.474/.734, this team’s offense, even in a bit of a slump, is still going .373/.461/.680.
As for the circle, at least one of May, Storako or Bahl stands a great chance of taking over May and June.
OU’s 37-1 and riding a 29-game winning streak, with Oakland, Louisville and Miami (Ohio) coming up beginning Saturday in the Buckeye state.
Life remains good for Patty Gasso’s Sooners.