Oklahoma breezed through its season-opening weekend in El Paso, Texas, rattling off four run-rule victories behind 70 combined runs.
From her lineup to her pitching staff, OU coach Patty Gasso had high expectations for her 2021 group. The Sooners surpassed their preseason evaluation, however, with an NCAA single-game record 13 home runs in their opener against UTEP on Feb. 11 and kept rolling through their next three outings.
The obstacles in their path will only become more difficult for the second-ranked Sooners, who visit Houston for a doubleheader today at the Cougars’ softball complex.
“As we go along, I think we’re stepping the ladder up and up and up each week into tougher competition,” Gasso said. “I think we will quickly get humbled here very soon if we feel like we’re bigger than the softball world. We’ll get humbled very quickly. We have Houston this weekend, and that’s a very tough program.”
The Cougars (2-1) are led by coach Kristin Vesely, who played for Gasso in the mid-2000s and earned two NFCA All-America selections as a Sooner.
The programs haven’t met since a Feb. 18, 2017, doubleheader in Houston. OU needed an extra frame in both contests to prevail, beating the Cougars 7-5 and 2-1 in eight innings.
“That’s a very tough program,” Gasso said of Houston. “… We’re going to face some very tough challenges here, and I’m excited for it. I like how we’re starting and slowly stepping the ladder up into our competition. It will give us a chance to really learn who we are.
“But quite honestly we played four games and they were all five-inning games. So we played 20 innings and four games, which wasn’t quite enough to kind of get the work that we wanted but I’m not complaining.”
The Sooners will wrap their weekend, which was rearranged at the last minute due to inclement weather in Texas, with Tarleton State at 11 a.m. on Monday. It will be just the second meeting between the programs.
Following the Sooners’ trip to Houston, they will head to Tempe, Arizona, where they will battle No. 15 Arizona State on Feb. 26. The week after, OU will host No. 21 Missouri at its Courtyard Marriott Tournament on March 5.
OU is playing with plenty of veterans, including two-time All-American pitcher Giselle Juarez, and having leaders like her will be crucial to the Sooners not getting too high on themselves as they navigate their 2021 schedule.
“I would say like just, having the confidence in yourself because you can do it, but remembering this game is a game of failure and you’re not always going to be perfect,” Juarez said of keeping the team’s expectations realistic. “Sometimes I still get stuck in that.
“... It’s a marathon not a sprint. Just enjoying the game, not getting caught up in stats and whatnot and just enjoying your teammates and the fun that you’re having on the field because it comes to an end very quickly.”