Perhaps Oklahoma’s perfect record and historic winning streak did more harm than good.
The top-ranked Sooners, who are off this weekend before capping their regular-season slate with a one-game trip to Wichita State and a three-game set at Oklahoma State next week, have been a different team since losing to Georgia in Athens on April 20.
OU didn’t allow a run from Texas Tech over 17 innings last weekend, while scoring 40 of their own.
Tuesday, Baylor challenged OU for a few frames before a Nicole Mendes grand slam kickstarted a 7-1 OU win. After that, the Sooners beat the Bears again, 11-0, in six innings.
The Sooners (39-1, 14-0 Big 12) are admittedly fueled by the lone blemish on their schedule — not that coach Patty Gasso minds.
“They were really, really uncomfortable after that game,” Gasso said of the loss to Georgia. “They did not like the taste of that. … That’s why that trip was important, to feel what it’s like to get a loss, to where you don’t want to feel that again. That’s sometimes the best motivation … ‘I will never feel that again.’”
Had OU beaten Georgia, its second win over Baylor on Tuesday would have tied Arizona’s NCAA record 47-game winning streak.
Gasso’s 2019 squad, which won 41 consecutive games, has been the closest to touching the Wildcats’ mark, set between April 5, 1996 and March 23, 1997.
OU’s players don’t seem too hurt their chase for history is over.
“I think that the further the record went on, the more that we felt the fear of losing,” OU catcher Kinzie Hansen said. “I don’t think that that’s how anybody should play the game that they love.”
Hansen might be the best example of OU’s new fearless demeanor.
Baylor actually led 1-0 in the bottom of the third inning in the first game of the two teams’ Tuesday doubleheader and were poised to go up 3-0 had it not been for OU’s defensive efforts.
Baylor’s Lou Gilbert hit a leadoff triple and tried to tack on the Bears’ second run on their next at-bat.
“When I saw her running, I was like ‘no way,’” Hansen said. “… When [Tiare Jennings] threw me the ball, I was like, there’s no way you’re touching my plate and I think I hit her pretty hard on the first tag.”
Baylor’s Emily Hott tried the same thing on Goose McGlaun’s deep double to left field, but Hansen held strong yet again.
OU’s impromptu defensive clinic came amid its sixth game in eight days and just before the Sooners are to finally receive a rest before their May slate picks up with Bedlam and the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.
It’s no better time for OU to play loose and ramp up toward postseason softball.
The Sooners might feel the weight of their conference dominance, having not lost a Big 12 game since falling to Baylor on April 23, 2017. Still, they’re finding solace in their lone setback.
“I think that after that [loss] happened, it was almost like that’s our one,” Hansen said. “Let’s go from here. Let’s bounce back. Let’s not be afraid, because there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“What do we have to lose?”