NORMAN - The defending national champion Oklahoma softball team has earned the No. 10 overall seed in the 2017 NCAA Division I Softball Championship. OU has earned a national seed each of the last 11 seasons and is hosting a Regional for the seventh straight year and 14th time overall.
The four-team, three-day event features Tulsa facing Arkansas at 11:30 a.m. Friday morning on SEC Network, before Oklahoma takes on North Dakota State at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon on ESPN3. Coincidentally, these four teams all met in Norman for the 2009 Regional, which was won by NDSU.
Against the NCAA Tournament field this year, the Sooners were an impressive 20-6 (.769) during the regular season. In fact, that's what OU's record was against the field entering last year's tournament, as well.
Fans can listen to each of OU's games on KEBC 1560 in Norman or online via the link above.
Oklahoma is making its 24th postseason appearance which is tied for 11th most in NCAA history. In addition, OU is tied with Washington for the fourth-most wins in postseason history and owns the fourth-best win percentage all-time.
OU has reached the postseason in each of the past 24 seasons. Only Arizona is currently on a longer streak.
|Alabama, Louisiana, Notre Dame, UCLA||19|
Oklahoma is 64-18 (.780) all-time in Regional play with 15 Regional championships in 23 appearances. OU has won 16 straight Regional contests and 21 of its last 22 dating to 2010. In the team's current 16-game win streak, it has outscored opponents 177-41 (11.1-2.6), including a 19-3 margin last year.
Facing North Dakota State
Oklahoma is a 2-1 all-time against North Dakota State with all three games taking place in Norman. OU got its two wins in 2006 as it won a doubleheader 9-0 and 7-2. NDSU's win came during the 2009 Regional in a 1-0, 11-inning contest.
The Sooners and Bison have played five common opponents in 2017: Arizona, Auburn, Loyola Marymount, Ole Miss and Omaha. OU went 4-2 against those teams with a pair of wins over Omaha and one-run losses to Arizona and Auburn. NDSU, meanwhile, was 2-5 by beating Ole Miss and winning one of three games with Omaha.
Oklahoma is 40-10 all-time against the Golden Hurricane, including a 22-4 record in Norman. OU has won six straight in the series after the teams altered wins and losses over a stretch of seven games from 2009-11. During OU's six-game win streak, it has outscored TU 21-3.
The teams have met in the postseason five times, all in a Norman Regional, with OU owning a 3-2 edge. Tulsa won the first meeting in 2009, while OU won two of three games in 2011 and another matchup in 2012. Tulsa was actually in the Norman Regional a year ago, but the teams didn't meet.
Against current non-conference foes, OU's 40 wins over Tulsa rank fifth-best in program history after its win totals over Missouri (51), Texas A&M (49), Wichita State (47) and Nebraska (43). It should be noted that Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska were all in the Big 12 for several years.
Since the teams first met in 1994, the only years in which they have not played at least once are 1999 and 2015.
The teams met earlier this year with OU winning a 1-0, 10-inning thriller in Norman. Paige Parker threw a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and had stretches where she set down eight, 10 and nine batters in a row, respectively. In the bottom of the 10th, she hit a leadoff double to set the wheels in motion, while Caleigh Clifton delivered the walk-off hit.
The Sooners and Golden Hurricane played 10 common opponents this year in Arkansas, Arizona, Baylor, Houston, Incarnate Word, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Omaha, Texas Tech and Wichita State. OU was 20-2 against those teams with losses to Arizona and Baylor while Tulsa was 12-5.
The Sooners' roster features one Tulsa native in Kelsey Arnold, who attended Holland Hall Prep.
Oklahoma holds a 22-2 all-time record over Arkansas, including an 12-1 edge in Norman. The Sooners haven't lost to the Razorbacks since an 11-9 setback on April 8, 2009 in Norman.
The Sooners have won eight straight against the Razorbacks, including run-rule wins in three of the last five meetings. During the current win streak, OU has outscored UA 78-15 for an average score of 9.8-1.9.
Among teams its faced at least 20 times, OU's .917 win percentage over Arkansas ranks second-best in school annals.
|New Mexico State||7||3||.870|
The Sooners and Razorbacks met earlier this year in Norman with OU posting a 4-2 victory. Arkansas led 1-0 after the top of the first, but Oklahoma scored three runs in a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning as Shay Knighten had an RBI single and Alissa Dalton brought in two runs with a single. Mariah Lopez struck out seven, while Paige Lowary had a save.
Second-year Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Sooners were a combined 102-22 (.823) during that time and reached the Super Regionals each year.
The Sooners and Razorbacks have eight common opponents so far in Loyola Marymount, Mississippi State, Nebraska, North Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Tulsa. OU was 9-2 against those teams, while Arkansas was 10-5.
Parker in Midst of Another Dominant Run
Paige Parker hasn't allowed a run over the last 37.2 IP, the longest streak of her career and her ninth that's covered at least 20.0 innings. Parker's streak is the longest by an OU pitcher since Keilani Ricketts had a 46.0 IP stretch from Feb. 25 - March 16, 2011.
Pitching Staff Nearing 2013 Levels
The Oklahoma pitching staff is having its best season statistically since the 2013 national championship team that was led by Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne. The team's ERA (1.53), strikeout rate (7.59 per 7 IP) and opponent average (.171) are all at their best levels since 2013, while the walk rate of 1.49 walks per 7 innings pitched is actually better than 2013 (1.69).
The 2017 staff has been anchored by two-time All-American Paige Parker, but junior transfer Paige Lowary and freshman Mariah Lopez have emerged to form a powerful trio. Entering the week, OU and Oregon were the only teams in the country to have three pitchers who have thrown at least 91.0 IP and also have ERAs of 1.78 or better.
Parker has seen her inning total drop from 209.1 to 160.0 at this same point a year ago. The decrease in workload appears to be doing wonders for her as her ERA (1.36), strikeout rate (9.06) and walk rate (1.23) are all better than any previous season in her career.
Lowary's numbers have improved significantly in Norman compared to her first two seasons at Missouri. Her ERA has improved from 3.32 to 1.78 while her walk rate has dropped from 3.51 per 7 IP to 1.90 and her opponent average has gone from .244 to .171.
Lowary has excelled in her role as a relief pitcher. In 35.2 innings in relief, she's allowed just 4 earned for a 0.79 ERA with a strikeout rate of 6.08/7 IP, a walk rate of 1.77/7 IP, an opponents' average of .096 and seven saves. Conversely, her ERA in 74.2 IP as a starter is 2.25 with a K rate of 6.00, walk rate of 1.97 and average against of .203. Remove a relief performance vs. Ole Miss on Feb. 17 where she gave up 3 runs in 2.1 IP, Lowary's ERA would be at 0.21 with 1 ER allowed in 33.1 IP.
Lopez has a 1.77 ERA with 98 strikeouts to 16 walks in 91.0 IP. As of 5/14, her 1.23 walks /7 IP was second in the country among freshmen (min. 91.0 IP), while her 4.54 hits/7 IP and ERA ranked fourth and her strikeout rate of 7.5/7 IP was 8th.
Healthy Knighten a Force at the Plate
Shay Knighten battled a knee injury throughout the fall and it impacted her as the season started. She was hitting just .232 with 1 home run through the first 20 games, but she's been on a tear since.
|First 20 Games||Stat||Last 38 Games|
Mendes on a Tear Since Becoming a Starter
Freshman Nicole Mendes entered the startin1g lineup on March 10 in the second game of a DH vs. Omaha and hasn't left. Over the last 37 games (where she has started in RF, DP, LF and P), she leads the team in average (.441), runs (40), hits (56), triples (3), total bases (81) and stolen bases (19), and is second in OBP (.486) and doubles (7).
Mendes has hit safely in 33 of the 37 games, including seven games with three hits highlighted by a four-hit effort at Loyola Marymount where she had two doubles and a triple.
Mendes is also currently riding a career-best 15-game hit streak and 29-game on-base streak, both of which are the longest such streaks by a Sooner this year. Below are some of her stats during both the hit streak and on-base streak.
|Hit Streak||Stat||On-Base Streak|
OU Closing in on 100 Stolen Bases
Oklahoma is 99-119 on stolen base attempts entering the Norman Regional. The 99 steals are third most in program history. Additionally, OU's stolen base rate of .832 ranks ninth all time.
Eleven different players have at least one stolen base this year and eight have at least seven steals. Nicole Mendes leads the team with 19 this year, while Caleigh Clifton is second with 18 and Sydney Romero has 15 this year after having just 6 in 2016.
As a team, OU has 16 games this year with at least three stolen bases and 10 games with at least four, including a season-high six at Texas Tech (4/30).
Through 5/14, Paige Parker is 8th among active pitchers in career ERA (1.57), 10th in wins (86) and shutouts (27), 14th in total strikeouts (700), 16th in strikeouts/7 IP (7.79), 18th in complete games (68), 29th in innings pitched (629.1), 38th in starts (90) and 48th in appearances (123) ... Paige Lowary is 8th among active pitchers in saves (13), 34th in wins (55) and 41st in strikeouts/7IP (6.09)
Caleigh Clifton is 31st among active players with 37 career HBP ... Nicole Mendes is 6th among active players in career batting average at .430 (min. 100 AB)
Parker and Mariah Lopez are tied for the team lead in ERA during home games (0.83), while Lopez has a team-leading 1.52 ERA in non-conference games ... Mendes leads the team in batting average in non-conference games (.433), while Macey Hatfield has a team-high .433 average in home games