NORMAN – Great teams act like they’ve been there before. But for Oklahoma softball, this is no act.
When the Sooners methodically disposed of Arkansas 9-0 to capture the NCAA Norman Super Regional on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, there was no crazy celebration when the final out was registered.
There were a whole lot of smiles, but no tears of joy. A couple of clinched fists were raised, but not one glove went airborne.
Player dogpiles at OU are reserved for winning the championship game at the Women’s College World Series, not for winning a Super Regional to advance there.
In what has become a program tradition at home after advancing to the WCWS, the Sooners sprint to the outfield wall and remove a padded panel adorned with their most recent WCWS appearances listed chronologically. The players carry the panel above their heads, place it on top of home plate and give it some aggressive love taps.
Throughout the season, OU players run to the outfield wall in right-center and touch the panel.
Translation: Advancing to the WCWS is what’s supposed to happen.
“They know how to do this,” 24th-year Sooners head coach Patty Gasso explained. “This program has gone to heights of where the expectation is ‘We do this. We should be one of the eight final teams (at the WCWS), and if we’re not, it’s a disappointing season.’ It’s a hard place to live, but it’s a world they’ve embraced. They love the challenge.”
The two-time defending national champion Sooners have qualified for their 12th WCWS appearance since 2000 and keep alive their quest for a rare three-peat. UCLA (1988-90) is the only team to claim three straight NCAA crowns in softball.
“Going to Oklahoma City is something people dream about every single day,” said OU senior lefthander and four-time Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker. “To be able to say we’ve done it three times in the past three years is pretty special. Oklahoma City is what dreams are made of, honestly. It really truly is.”
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel and Gasso have known each other for years and there’s mutual respect between the two. After Saturday’s game, Deifel said, “I think this is the most complete team Patty’s ever had.”
Earning their way to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium next week in Oklahoma City and seeking their fifth national crown overall, the fourth-seeded Sooners (55-3) are 5-0 in this year’s NCAA Tournament thus far and have outscored their opponents 40-2.
An overflow gathering of 1,962 – the largest crowd ever at Marita Hynes Field – watched what would be the last game on their home field for OU’s six seniors.
Saturday marked home win No. 100 for the Sooners’ senior class against just five losses (.952) and capped this year’s 30-0 record at home.
“Marita Hynes (Field) is a really, really special place to me,” Parker said. “To be able to go out this way is all I could have ever imagined.”
Parker went the distance against the 13th-seeded Razorbacks (42-17), despite a heat index that reached 100 degrees. Parker upped her season record to 29-2 by scattering six hits and striking out nine in 111 pitches.
“I’ve played in this kind of heat before,” said Parker, who grew up in Independence, Mo., “but it definitely was hot out there today, for sure.”
Gasso said her team is playing its best ball of the season and credits the postseason emergence of sophomore right fielder Nicole Mendes, junior designated player Fale Aviu and senior catcher Lea Wodach.
- Mendes went 5-for-7 and scored five runs at the Super Regional to up her season batting average from .295 to .314.
- Since the Big 12 Tournament, Aviu has raised her average from .269 to .285.
- In the last four games, Wodach’s average has gone from .248 to .261.
In addition, OU freshman sensation Jocelyn Alo, the national leader in home runs, now owns the team’s highest batting average at .415, edging junior third baseman Sydney Romero at .414.
The Sooners jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against the Razorbacks thanks to three hits that included a two-run single from Mendes.
Aviu’s opposite-field, three-run homer to left in the fifth inning broke the game open and pushed OU’s lead to 5-0.
The Sooners added two more runs with two outs in the sixth, scoring on a fielding error and on an RBI single up the middle from Aviu that scored Mendes.
Alo hit her 28th homer of the season with a two-run shot to left-center to make the score 9-0 in the top of the seventh and set the final margin.
The Sooners now await their bracket pairings for the WCWS, which will be held May 31-June 6.