NORMAN — The hard truth about Oklahoma softball this time around?
Plain and simple, if the Sooners don’t win a national championship, it will have been a disappointing season.
Good thing everything coach Patty Gasso has done this season has turned to gold. Indeed, the good news is the Sooners don’t look a bit like a team bound to deal with disappointment.
It is a strange thing.
The Sooners — ranked No. 1, the No. 1 overall seed in the entire NCAA bracket and winners of 47 games in 51 tries — have been so good this season, and the players deserve all kinds of credit.
At the plate, they’ve become a murderer’s row, hitting .333, slugging .581 and scoring a tops-in-the-nation 7.55 runs per game. In the circle, led by Keilani Ricketts, with a very big assist from Michelle Gascoigne, the pitching staff has molded a least-in-the-nation 1.09 earned run average.
Still, Gasso deserves equal credit, and not simply because she assembled the group she’ll be sending out to face Marist on opening night of the Norman Regional.
Which is why it will be so unfair to her should her team, the nation’s best for a second straight season even though it was Alabama that left Oklahoma City with last year’s national championship, fail to come through after coming through all season long.
Unfair, but not unjust.
Because the Sooners are so good.
Thursday was press-conference day for the Norman Regional and Gasso may have explained more in 5 minutes about the approach she has taken with her team this season than Bob Stoops has ever explained in an entire season, any season.
Of course, she knew how good her team was and could be. Of course, the way it ended in the rain and past midnight against the Crimson Tide last season, it would be hard for any team to take anything too seriously until it saw another postseason on the horizon.
Also, Gasso was concerned about the Big 12 conference’s ability to get the Sooners ready for another postseason run. Texas A&M and Missouri, two terrific softball programs, may have been replaced by West Virginia and TCU, but neither the Mountaineers nor the Horned Frogs play softball.
That meant treating February a lot like most teams treat April, May and, if they’re really good, June.
“We talked in January about the importance of going into February and being very good and, normally, you don’t really talk about that,” Gasso said. “But we knew what our scheduling was going to look like and we knew it was very important to be close to as good as we could be, because that was a chance to get our RPI number (up) … get these big wins in our back pocket.”
All OU did was win its first 17 games, which just happened to be its most difficult stretch of the season. Among the victims were No. 14 Stanford, No. 3 Oregon, No. 19 Kentucky, No. 11 Washington, No. 17 Nebraska and Georgia, no longer in the poll, but No. 13 at the time.
It may sound odd, but Gasso wanted her team to peak early.
While most of the Sooner nation was concerning itself with basketball (and still complaining about a defense that couldn’t stop any well-quarterbacked offense, especially one led by Johnny Manziel), the small-diamond Sooners were running the table in Phoenix, San Diego and Palm Springs.
“We did that for our first four weeks and they were really, really good,” Gasso said. “We came back home pretty exhausted and you could see us struggling with a few teams along the way in mid-March.”
But soon enough, it was time go win another conference title and, after dropping single games to Nebraska and Louisville (No. 12 and No. 17) in Norman, the Sooners went 15-2 against their league, winning every series.
So Gasso has put together, perhaps, the best regular-season softball team in NCAA history — want more: the Sooners’ .976 fielding percentage is seventh in the nation, a pretty amazing figure for a group that doesn’t get a lot of work — and she has done it by getting it to buy into a regular season it might have preferred to treat with one giant yawn.
After dealing with ultimate disappointment last June, the Sooners returned with ultimate focus and it’s nothing short of amazing and Gasso is the reason why; which is why it seems so wrong to now offer her such an ultimate standard by which to judge the season.
Of course, given what’s transpired, there’s no good reason to believe the Sooners, nor their coach, might fall short.
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