In the top of the fifth inning, the Sooners nearly collapsed.
Having already given up two runs, Clemson was hungry for more after loading the bases thanks to a pair of rare defensive blunders. With OU seemingly holding its 4-2 lead by a thread, coach Patty Gasso marched towards the pitcher's circle to give a brief, yet direct message to her team.
OU's coach rarely feels the need for mid-inning conferences, but felt her team's mistakes in the inning necessitated one. Despite nearly folding under their own weight, the response stuck with Gasso more than the lapses. It began when sophomore Jordy Bahl forced a line-out with the bases loaded to record the third out of the inning. OU's first three batters in the bottom half of the inning then reached base.
The next three pitches, one to designated player Haley Lee and two to infielder Alyssa Brito, featured two home runs, five runs scored and a much-needed momentum swing. From there, No. 1 OU (55-1) cruised past No. 16-seeded Clemson (49-11) with a 9-2 victory in Game 1 of the Norman Super Regional on Friday at Marita Hynes Field.
"You could feel (the momentum) building," Gasso said of the Sooners' response in the bottom of the fifth. "When (the hits) get really consecutive like that, (the players) just go crazy.
"It's like a wave that's ready to break on you. And this is the wave breaker right here," Gasso said while pointing to Lee.
Can we get a 𝐁𝐎𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐑⁉️@haley45lee grand slam and Marita Hynes Field is hoppin'!B5 | OU 8, Clemson 2 | 📺 ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/4utREFNIx2— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) May 26, 2023
𝐁𝐚𝐜𝐤-𝐭𝐨-𝐁𝐚𝐜𝐤 🗣️🗣️🗣️B5 | OU 9, Clemson 2 | @alyss_33 pic.twitter.com/ujqwC8uHt7— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) May 26, 2023
With Friday's win, OU tied the NCAA’s all-time win streak record of 47, set by Arizona in 1996-97, and can break the record with a win Saturday. The Sooners are also one win away from clinching their seventh consecutive Women's College World Series berth.
"They don't care about streaks," Gasso said. "They don't care about those things. They’re meant to be broken. … They want to be standing at the end of the season saying ‘We're the best team in the country.’ They know how to do it in a way that nobody else does. They don't leave the field devastated after anything. They understand that this is a game. It’s supposed to be fun.
"It's important that this locker room looks out for each other and remembers what our purpose is and what our goal is."
It became evident early on — specifically when Clemson was outhitting the Sooners 4-1 at the end of the third inning — that OU was in for one of its tougher battles of the season.
Not just the on-field play, but its traveling fans fueled Clemson’s energy When the Tigers first scored in the fifth, the Clemson faithful hovering over the right shoulder of senior catcher Kinzie Hansen began their "let's go Tigers" chants, which were matched with a few cries of "Boomer Sooner."
Despite their unfamiliarity to those situations, the Sooners knew how to respond.
"We did a really good job of slowing it down (and) sticking to (our) routine," Bahl said. "Whether things are going your way in that second or not, (the routine) should stay consistent. I think not getting stuck on any of the prior pitches, but being present with each pitch in the moment (helped us settle down)."
OU overcomes defensive mishaps
The Sooners seldom suffer defensive lapses, honing the nation's top fielding percentage at .989. However, their win featured multiple errors for the fourth time this season.
Left fielder Rylie Boone committed the first with an errant throw past infielders Cydney Sanders and Jennings after fielding a one-hop. Boone's throw caused both Clemson runners to advance one base. Later in the inning, Brito fumbled a ground ball, allowing another Clemson batter to reach and extend the rally.
"If a pitcher's down, not getting what they want, (the hitters) come up and score runs. If we aren't scoring runs, (our) pitchers will shut it down. They all have each other's back without saying anything," Gasso said. "Brito knew (she made an error) … but it's like, 'Ok, we're good. Everybody's good.' Just flush it out by hitting it over the fence. That's how we do it."
Infielder Grace Lyons failed to gather a pair of grounders in the first few innings, one to her left and one to her right. While they weren't marked errors, the plays were ones Lyons has been known for making successfully.
Sooners honor Marita Hynes
OU honored Marita Hynes during what's likely their last few games at the stadium bearing her name.
At the conclusion of the first inning, all eyes turned to Hynes, who was standing behind home plate above the first few rows of seats, where the Sooner faithful gave a warm standing ovation to her.
"I talked to her earlier and (in) the last couple of days," coach Patty Gasso said during a mid-game interview on the ESPN2 broadcast. "It's a big moment for her. So we just want to give it all (we have for) her."
𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐤 𝐲𝐨𝐮, Marita 👑 pic.twitter.com/x3wfmWoORk— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) May 26, 2023
Marita Hynes being honored before the 2nd inning as the #Sooners are playing their last games at Marita Hynes Field. pic.twitter.com/98hjPQqq0C— Nick Coppola (@Nick_Coppola__) May 26, 2023
OU will face Clemson in Game 2 of the Norman Super Regional at noon on Saturday on ESPN.
This story was edited by Nick Coppola.
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