Though still No. 1, coach Patty Gasso's Sooners prove mortal over season's first weekend
As you may have known and could have guessed, coach Patty Gasso’s Sooners entered the softball season a unanimous No. 1.
Also, as you may know or could have guessed, five games into the season, Oklahoma remains a unanimous No. 1.
But that’s where the similarities end, at least thus far, to the Oklahoma’s absolutely dominant 2022 season in which it lost just three of 62 games and only two before entering the Women’s College World Series.
Indeed, the headline coming out of the season’s first weekend is great news for the sport and sort of neutral-to-not-good news for OU.
“SOONERS SUDDENLY MORTAL”
Context, of course, remains key.
Perhaps nobody’s played a more difficult five-game schedule than OU, which traveled to Irvine, Calif., to take on three ranked teams — then-No. 16 Duke, then-No. 17 Stanford and then-No. 14 Washington; now Nos. 16, 19 and 12, respectively — at the Mark Campbell Invitational.
Jocelyn Alo’s no longer on the squad, which means, beyond her bat being removed from the lineup, her looming presence has been removed, too, a fact that will make it tougher on Sooner hitters this season.
Also, hey, it’s just five games.
Still, the numbers and totals, or lack of them, are a bit startling.
Five games into 2022, OU had scored 38 runs, pitched four shutouts and recorded three run-rule victories, the nearest margin being a three-run triumph over then-No. 3 UCLA.
Five games into this season, they’ve scored 29 runs, pitched three shutouts and recorded two run-rule victories, the nearest margin being one run, twice, 1-0 over unranked Liberty in eight innings and 5-4 over Washington, a game in which Jordy Bahl walked six on the way to allowing four earned runs over 3 2/3 innings.
A year ago the Sooners hit .371, got on base at a .474 clip and slugged .734.
*So we’re clear, slugging percentage is a measure of bases per at-bat. For instance, if a player comes to the plate four times, makes three outs and hits a single, that player is slugging .250, yet a player who makes the same three outs and hits a home run is slugging 1.000.
This year, five games in, the Sooners are hitting a collective .311, getting on base at a .391 clip and slugging .475, none of which rank amongst the nation’s top 50 in said categories.**
Of course, it’s only five games.
**Sometimes, for brevity’s sake, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are presented all at once, together. In OU’s case: .311/.391/.475.
Perhaps more alarming?
OU’s most effective hitter to date wasn’t a Sooner last season.
It’s redshirt senior transfer Haley Lee (.462/.533/.692), who was at Texas A&M; though Grace Lyons (.462/.462/.692) is right there with her and Tiare Jennings (.438/.471/.500) is approaching the same neighborhood. Yet, after that, but for Jayda Coleman (.308/.500/.308), no other Sooner with at least 8 at-bats is hitting better than .250.***
***Rylie Boone, though, is an interesting case. She’s hitting .250 and exited the weekend with two hits in eight at-bats, a single and a double, yet leads the team in on-base percentage, .538, having drawn five walks among her 13 plate appearances.
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Pitching is wildly interesting, too.
The word entering the season was Jordy Bahl’s back.
Sidelined the length of the 2022 postseason — but for Game 2 of the WCWS championship series — with a forearm injury originally so bad, Gasso said, Bahl could not lift her throwing arm, she entered 2023 with a clean bill of health, yet exited the weekend the Sooners’ most suspect hurler.
A measure of Gasso’s confidence, of the four pitchers she sent to the circle in Irvine — Bahl, Nicole May, Alex Storako, Kierston Deal — Bahl was the only one to draw two starts and both against ranked teams, Duke and Washington.
Though credited with wins in each, the second, against Washington, only came after May tossed three innings of one-hit, scoreless relief to keep a one-run win intact … though Bahl was terrific against the Blue Devils, tossing a seven-inning, two hit shutout that came with eight strikeouts against four walks.
Meanwhile, May not only starred in relief, but as a starter, too, throwing eight shutout innings at Liberty, not one of them with the lead. In all, her weekend included 11 1/3 innings, a 0.00 earned run average and 18 strikeouts against five walks.
Storako (1.05 ERA, 6 2/3 IP) and Deal (0.00 ERA, 4 1/3 IP) both pitched well, the first picking up the win over Stanford and the second a win over San Jose.
Maybe it’s worth noting the pitcher who held the Sooners scoreless into the eighth inning last Friday.
It was Liberty’s Karlie Keeney, who allowed five hits and no runs until the eighth, struck out five and walked four.
Perhaps it was just one great day or OU spent it hitting the ball right at people.
Keeney also faced Washington, allowing nine hits and six earned runs; and Stanford, allowing nine hits and five earned runs in just two innings.
A year ago, she went 19-7 with a 2.45 ERA over 177 1/3 innings, striking out 100 and walking 47.
The Flames went 23-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but most of that success may have belonged to the offense (.290/.375/.462).
A few other notes.
• After OU, the next nine teams in the USAToday/NFCA coaches’ poll are UCLA, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Texas and Arizona. OU, OSU and Texas are the only Big 12 teams in the poll.
• OU’s hit four home runs through five games, one each from Lee, Alyssa Brito, Grace Green and Jocelyn Erickson.
• The Sooners have attempted stealing just two bases, Lyons successfully and Bahl getting caught.
• OU returns to action at the Baylor-hosted Getterman Classic, meeting Longwood Friday, Stepehen F. Austin and Army Saturday and Baylor Sunday.
• The home opener arrives 3 p.m. March 3 against Illinois-Chicago, part of an OU-hosted tournament at Marita Hynes Field. Immediately after, the Sooners take on 16th-ranked Kentucky.