NCAA Norman Regional Begins Friday
NORMAN — Back-to-back national champion No. 3/2 Oklahoma (50-3, 18-0 Big 12) begins its title defense this weekend as it hosts an NCAA Regional in Norman beginning Friday. The four-team, three-day event features Missouri (28-27, 6-17 SEC) facing Tulsa (33-23, 10-11 American) at 3:30 p.m. CT on Friday on WatchESPN before the Sooners take on Boston University (39-18, 15-3 Patriot) at 6 p.m. Friday on ESPN2.
Friday’s winners will square off in the first of three games Saturday, while Friday’s losing teams will face off in an elimination game for game two of Saturday’s tripleheader. The loser of Saturday’s first game will take on the winner of the day’s second game in an elimination game later Saturday night. The winner of Saturday’s final game will take on the winner of the day’s first game on Sunday with an if necessary rematch scheduled for later on Sunday.
The winner of this weekend’s regional will advance to the NCAA Super Regional round against the winner of the Fayetteville Regional, hosted by Arkansas, the following weekend with the ultimate goal of reaching the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma has made the NCAA Tournament in every year of head coach Patty Gasso’s 24 seasons at the helm of the program and in 25 straight seasons overall. Last season, OU became the fourth program ever to win back-to-back national titles. With four national titles Oklahoma trails only UCLA (11) and Arizona (8) for most in NCAA history, and no other team has more than two.
Sooners Sweep Big 12 Titles
For the third time in program history and second consecutive year, the Sooners swept the Big 12 titles by clinching the regular-season crown and the postseason tournament championship. The feat has been accomplished nine times in Big 12 history, with the Sooners also doing so in 1996 and 2017.
Oklahoma clinched its seventh consecutive regular season title in historic fashion, becoming just the second team in Big 12 history to finish the regular season undefeated, joining the 1998 Nebraska team. The Sooners went 18-0 for the best conference finish in school history.
OU has finished first in the Big 12 over the past seven seasons with a combined record of 116-13. Prior to OU’s current run of seven straight regular season titles, no team had ever won more than two consecutive titles.
The Sooners then won three games at the 2018 Phillips 66 Big 12 Softball Championship to clinch the title sweep. OU took down Texas (10-1, six innings), Iowa State (9-6) and Baylor (6-4) to earn its sixth tournament crown.
Overall, the Sooners have 17 Big 12 titles with 11 regular season crowns and six Big 12 tournament championships, all under current OU head coach Patty Gasso. OU has over double the amount of conference championships as the next closest team (Texas, eight).
NCAA Regional Opponents
The Sooners open the NCAA Norman Regional against Boston University, which handed the Sooners one of their three losses this season. The two teams met Feb. 17 at the Troy Cox Classic in Las Cruces, N.M., as the Terriers edged the Sooners 4-3. After BU took a two-run lead in the top of the second, OU scored three over the second and the third to go ahead 3-2. However, the Sooners were undone by errors in the top of the sixth, and the Terriers scored two unearned runs to clinch the win.
OU has also faced regional foe Tulsa this season, defeating the Golden Hurricane 1-0 in Tulsa on April 17. Freshman Jocelyn Alo’s third-inning solo home run proved the difference maker in the contest as Mariah Lopez and Paige Lowary combined on a three-hit shutout.
The Sooners and the Golden Hurricane also met in the 2017 NCAA Norman Regional. Entering the bottom of the 10th, the Golden Hurricane led 4-2, but Caleigh Clifton and Sydney Romero hit a pair of two-run home-runs to claim a 6-4 walk-off win. In the regional’s deciding game, Nicole Mendes homered the first pitch of the game, Macey Hatfield hit her own solo shot, and Mendes scored on a Romero single to claim the 3-0 win.
Oklahoma and Missouri have not faced each other since Missouri left the Big 12 after the 2012 season. The Sooners lead the all-time series 51-41, but the Tigers have won 20 of 35 meetings in Norman. Additionally, Sooner pitchers Paige Lowary and Paige Parker are both transfers from Missouri.
Good with the Bat, Good with the Glove
The Sooners are proving dominant on both sides of the game this season. Offensively, Oklahoma leads the nation in on-base percentage (.436) and slugging percentage (.547) while ranking second in scoring (6.96, 369 runs) behind only Boise State (6.96, 376 runs).
Overall, the Sooners are outscoring their opponents 369-69 this season. They've claimed 24 shutouts and 19 run-rule wins.
Defensively, the Sooners are No. 1 in fielding percentage (.989) as they have only committed 15 errors all season. Additionally, OU’s pitching staff has combined for an ERA of 1.19, ranking fourth in the nation.
OU’s success has merited the best win-loss percentage in the country, .943 (50-3).
The Oklahoma pitching staff has returned in full force in 2018. Through 53 games, the Sooners rank fourth nationally with an ERA of 1.19, behind Oregon (1.12), Washington (1.15) and Drake (1.19).
Paige Parker, Paige Lowary and Mariah Lopez are ranked first, second and third in the conference with respective ERAs of 0.94, 1.09 and 1.49. Parker is fourth in the nation over 148.1 innings this season, Lowary is 11th nationally over 77.1 innings and Lopez is 29th over 75.1 frames of work in 2018.
Lowary leads all active Division I pitchers with 24 career saves, including a program-record 18 at Oklahoma.
Parker is second in the conference in strikeouts per seven innings pitched (8.2) while Lopez is third (8.0). Against Montana, Lopez threw her first career double-digit strikeout game with 11 Ks, and Parker has three games this season with double-digit strikeouts.
Lopez leads the conference in walks allowed per seven innings, averaging 0.93, and comes in 10th nationally. Lowary (1.18) and Parker (1.51) are second and third, respectively, in the Big 12.
Missouri transfer Parker Conrad earned her first OU win against Illinois State on March 11, retiring 18 of 20 batters faced in a six-inning shutout while striking out a career-high six. Conrad, who earned her first Sooner start against BYU, has tossed 30.1 innings this season with an ERA of 0.69.
Right-handed sophomore Melanie Olmos made her first career start against Abilene Christian on March 4, striking out a career-high four batters in 2.2 innings. She has thrown 4.2 total innings this season.
Sophomore utility player Nicole Mendes has made five appearances in relief this season, totaling 6.0 innings and garnering one win.
Last Time Out
The Sooners claimed the 2018 Phillips 66 Big 12 Softball Championship title with a trio of wins, marking OU’s sixth postseason tournament crown in program history. Oklahoma was the only team to go undefeated in pool play, taking down Texas and Iowa State, before defeating No. 17/16 Baylor in the title game.
OU opened the tournament with a 10-1 win over the Longhorns in six innings. Although Texas scored first with a run in the first, the Sooners took the lead in the second with a solo homer from Nicole Pendley and a two-RBI single from Caleigh Clifton. The Sooners added a pair of runs in both the third and fourth innings to take a 7-1 lead. Freshman Jocelyn Alo then clinched OU’s win with a walk-off three-run home run to left field.
In game two, the Sooners came back from an early four-run deficit to clinch their sport in the title game. The Cyclones jumped out to a quick lead in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of two OU errors to bring four runs across before the Sooner defense could get an out on the board. Parker Conrad then entered the game and stopped ISU’s hot start. She tossed the next 3.2 innings, allowing just three hits and no runs while striking out three batters. The Sooner offense backed Conrad up, scoring three runs in the top of the third to come within one run. Another run in the third tied the contest, and three runs in the fifth gave OU the advantage. Both teams scored a pair of runs in the seventh.
Paige Lowary tossed her first complete game of the season while Pendley tallied five RBIs to lift the Sooners to a 6-4 victory over No. 17/16 Baylor in the title game. Pendley put OU on the board in the first with a two-RBI double, and after Baylor scored in the third, Pendley hit a three-run blast to left center. The Lady Bears scored three runs in the sixth, but Sydney Romero drove in a run to insure OU’s victory.
Pendley was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finishing the weekend 6-for-9 with two home runs, one double, nine RBIs and a 1.444 slugging percentage. A total of seven Sooners were named to the 15-member All-Tournament team. Joining Pendley were Alo, Fale Aviu, Shay Knighten, Lowary, Paige Parker and Romero.
The winner of the NCAA Norman Regional will face the winner of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, which includes host Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Wichita State and DePaul.