Back to OKC: Sooners Advance to 13th WCWS
NORMAN – When her top-ranked team scraped together just three hits in the opening game of the NCAA Norman Super Regional, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso insisted she didn’t care what kind of numbers her team posted as long as it won the game.
If that’s truly the case, then Gasso didn’t have a care in the world Saturday afternoon as the top-seeded Sooners secured their fourth straight trip to the Women’s College World Series.
OU clinched its 13th WCWS appearance this millennium by collecting 12 hits and pounding out five home runs in a convincing 8-0 victory over No. 16-seeded Northwestern before a sellout crowd of 1,939 at Marita Hynes Field.
The Sooners (54-3) will be seeking their fifth national championship when the tournament starts next Thursday at USA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Asked how Saturday’s dominance felt compared to a string of four consecutive close postseason battles, Gasso smiled and said, “It was incredible. It’s tough to get into these positions. Some of the toughest games we’ve ever played here are at regionals because there’s so much at stake. I think everyone kind of exhales when they get to the World Series. ‘Ahh, we made it.’ To see them do it on stage when so much is at stake, it’s just a testament to what they’ve been doing all season.”
OU’s celebration was mild after eliminating the Wildcats (47-13), but that’s no different than what Gasso has seen the last four seasons from a record-setting group of six seniors, four of whom are starters.
“There are times I wonder, ‘Why aren’t we celebrating harder? Why aren’t we dog-piling?' ” Gasso said. “It’s this commitment to excellence they have, the expectations.”
The Sooners entered this weekend leading the nation in home runs per game (1.87). OU’s five home runs helped secure a school single-season record (108). This came on the heels of failing to hit a homer in Friday’s 3-0 victory over the Wildcats in the Super Regional opener.
Reminded of her post-game comments following Friday’s survival over Northwestern, Gasso caved and said she would much rather see her team dominate and post monster numbers. “I was trying to make an excuse for us,” Gasso admitted with a chuckle.
Saturday’s homers came from five different players and commenced with a solo shot to left field from senior third baseman and National Player of the Year finalist Sydney Romero in a four-run third inning that gave OU a 5-0 lead. Romero was followed three hitters later by a towering, two-run blast to center field from sophomore rightfielder Jocelyn Alo.
Freshman first baseman Grace Green hit a solo shot to center field in the fifth inning, senior second baseman Caleigh Clifton had a solo homer to right-center in the sixth and sophomore catcher Lynnsie Elam closed out the scoring with a solo homer in the seventh.
Pitchers once again were dominant in the Sooners’ 28th shutout of the season. Junior right-hander Mariah Lopez (18-1) started and allowed two hits over 4.2 innings. Junior right-hander Shannon Saile closed out the game with 2.1 innings of zero hits, zero walks and three strikeouts.
Romero finished 3-for-5 at the plate to raise her season batting average to .435. She also set a school record for career doubles in the process.
“They play it very low-key,” Gasso said of her record-setting players, “but those are things I’ll never forget. Unless they’re reading it on Twitter, they don’t know that there’s things going on like that. For her (Romero) to be in the record books, it’s a big deal here because some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game are from this program.”