Patty Gasso’s squad waited through a 50-game regular season slate to finally arrive at what it set out for — postseason play.
Intrasquad scrimmages in August. A hiccup against Baylor on Feb. 19. A battle for the No. 1 overall seed with UCLA on Feb 26. And through Big 12 play. This is what Oklahoma has been waiting for.
“They're living for what's coming,” Gasso said Wednesday. “They've had to wait a long time to get here. Their energy will be ready. I mean they're amped. They love this time of the season.”
Gasso and the Sooners (49-1, 18-0 Big 12) begin their long sought out postseason against the winner of Baylor-Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament at 1 p.m. Friday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.
Though the stadium possesses a larger atmosphere than OU is used to, Gasso prepared her team in the regular season.
The Sooners faced a variety of hostile environments, including a trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU, where the crowd of 3,073 marked the fourth highest attendance in Tiger Park history. OU also took a trek to Waco, where it avenged its lone loss of the season with a three-game sweep, and capped regular season play against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
While a barrage of testing road games seems unfavorable to most, Gasso wasn’t overwhelmed — and neither were the Sooners. In fact, OU’s coach embraced it as a chance to prepare for what lies ahead.
“I think finishing at Oklahoma State should really help us as we go forward,” Gasso said. “It was a … tough atmosphere, but they embrace (that).”
Gasso learned through the trips the fandom in the stands didn’t matter. OU will show up, and be fired up, for big crowds regardless.
“Whether it's hostile or for you,” Gasso said. “They just like environments. And they thrive in (them).”
The Sooners may be without senior catcher Kinzie Hansen, who exited OU’s 8-3 win over OSU on Friday after being hit by a pitch. Gasso said OU is ‘taking it slow’ regarding Hansen’s return.
“(We’re) trying to get her rest,” Gasso said. “(We) certainly don't want to use her unnecessarily or even in practice if (she’s) going to hurt anything more. She feels good. She took swings today.”
With OU’s first opponent yet to be determined, Gasso isn’t ready to play the guessing game and said the Sooners will wait until the matchup is set in stone to start adjusting for it.
“We're going to watch the second half (of the Baylor-Iowa State game) and then start our practice versus trying to prepare for two different teams,” Gasso said. “I think that will help us get a little more focused on what we need to (do).”
Deal earns high praise from Gasso
Freshman pitcher Kierston Deal caught Gasso’s attention after closing out the second game of OU’s three-game series against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.
OU’s left-hander entered as the Sooners trailed 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. She recorded a crucial out to keep the deficit at two runs, and retired the OSU side in the seventh to seal the win after the Sooners plated four runs in the top of the inning.
Real 𝐃𝐄𝐀𝐋. Two outs...@DealKierston 🥶 pic.twitter.com/uaoT391zUZ— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) May 6, 2023
It was Deal’s first time pitching from behind, as all her previous appearances came with OU leading by six runs or more. After rising up in a crucial situation, Gasso was proud of how Deal stepped up when her team needed it most.
“I think that was a game-changer for us,” Gasso said. “In the first game (of the season), she threw a few innings and it was like a deer in headlights. Now, to see how far she’s come, she captured our hearts. Watching her settle in and have command … like she’s done it a million times. That’s what really got things started for us.
“When a big moment like that happens, it’s really outstanding to see her. And she wants more, she’s hungry. You can feel that already.”
Deal, Extra Inning Softball’s No. 1-ranked recruit in 2022, improved to 3-0 after the win with a 0.95 earned-run average.
Sooners collect yearly Big 12 awards
Oklahoma won or had a share in four of the five Big 12 yearly awards, the conference announced Wednesday.
Junior outfielder Jayda Coleman earned Big 12 Player of the Year, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordy Bahl won Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and senior shortstop Grace Lyons collected her third consecutive Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honor unanimously. Additionally, eight Sooners received All-Big 12 honors, including a conference-best seven first team selections.
Gasso won her 11th straight Big 12 Coach of the Year award, sharing it with Baylor’s Glenn Moore.
𝐀𝐥𝐥-𝐁𝐢𝐠 𝟏𝟐 😮💨Eight total. Seven First Team selections. Three unanimous. #ChampionshipMindset pic.twitter.com/7xhf5uXsIF— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) May 10, 2023
“There’s probably three or four players on our team that could’ve won (Player of the Year),” Gasso said. “But, Jayda’s worthy. She’s had a good year and I’m proud of her. She's very passionate … but she also has matured quite a bit and is really putting in excellence not only on the field, but in the classroom. I’ve really seen her grow into a woman.”
Coleman’s .449 batting average and 13 home runs both rank second in the Big 12, while Bahl ranks second in the conference with 139 strikeouts and third with a 1.19 earned run average. Lyons is the first player to win three Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
This story was edited by Colton Sulley.
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