By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Nowhere in the NCAA tournament field of 64 teams will you find two with a greater disparity in experience than Oklahoma and Bryant.
The Sooners, who will host the Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. tonight, have been to the Women’s College World Series three years in a row and are the defending national champions whose multiple All-Americans play in front of a sold-out crowd.
Bryant hasn’t even been playing Division 1 softball for three years. The Bulldogs officially joined the Northeastern Conference last season and finished under .500 in their first year. Then came coach Shayne Lotito, who in her first year as a head coach led Bryant to a 32-20 record and a conference title.
Now the Bulldogs have their shot in the biggest game in program history, and they aren’t shying away from it.
“The whole team is extremely excited to have this opportunity,” Lotito said. “Our goal right now is to compete. I’m not going to say we’re going to take them down. I’m not going to say we’re going to lose, but this team will compete tomorrow.”
Sophomore Elle Madsen echoed her coach, saying that when the team watched its first-ever selection show on Sunday, they hoped for a big stage.
“We wanted to go somewhere big, and there’s nowhere better than to come play the defending national champion,” she said.
Hofstra’s focus on defense: Hofstra has been a tournament mainstay, but the Pride isn’t used to getting into the field of 64 the way they did this season. Hofstra has made a habit of earning the Colonial Conference’s automatic bid, but after a loss marred by errors in the title game against Towson, coach Bill Edwards has emphasized a back-to-basics approach entering the regional.
“We are just trying to get back to fundamentals,” he said. “Getting back to everything that early on in the year we were so good at. We’re always one of the top defensive teams in the country, and that sort of evaded us. I think we are a little bit jumpy on defense, a little anxious on defense, so we worked on settling down today and gathering better, being on better balance and doing all those individual fundamental things in order to improve it. Now we just have to go out there and execute.”
The Pride will need that defense when they open the regional at 5 p.m. today against Texas A&M, a power-hitting team that’s competed in the ultra-competitive SEC all season.
That experience is what Texas A&M coach Jo Evans, who watched her team fall to OU in the Super Regional a year ago, is counting on this weekend.
“We always feel like if you can make it through the grind of the SEC, you are not going to play anybody better than the teams you already played,” she said. “We just know that we won’t play any teams that are more competitive or deeper or stronger of faster that we’ve already seen.”
Eyes on Tennessee: While the Sooners certainly won’t be looking past this weekend, their fans may be. And the direction they should be looking is at Tennessee, the tournament’s 10-seed and OU’s opponent from a memorable national title series a year ago.
The Volunteers open the tournament with a contest against Charleston Southern tonight, and also have Lipscomb and Virginia Tech in its regional. The winner of the Tennessee regional would travel to OU for the Super Regional if the Sooners advance.
Postseason streak reaches 21: While Bryant is making its first tournament appearance, the Sooners are riding the second-longest postseason appearance streak in the country. OU has advanced to a regional for 21 straight seasons, tied with Washington and second only to Arizona, which makes its 28th straight appearance this season.
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