If there’s one thing Patty Gasso has learned in her 29 years at Oklahoma, it’s that she doesn’t let her teams get ahead of themselves.
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
That’s going to be more important than ever with this year’s Sooners, who have the chance to make even more history. After winning back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022, another title this season would make the Sooners just the second program to ever win three in a row.
The only other team to three-peat was UCLA, when the Bruins won national titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The Sooners had the chance to three-peat in 2018, but ultimately lost in the Women’s College World Series semifinals to Washington.
Though this season brings another chance at a three-peat, and the program’s seventh national title, Gasso’s not letting her team look too far ahead.
“We don’t talk about winning, repeat — those are words that we’re really not talking about around here because it’s premature,” the long-tenured OU coach said during Monday’s media day. “It’s really about the process. It’s the journey. It’s all of that, all of the work we’ve put in.
“We’re not going down that rabbit hole right now. It’s a scary place to take them, to hear them talk about. We’re just trying to keep it day by day, very simple and not get overwhelmed with looking at rankings and things that don’t make any sense right now. So It’s a new team. It’s a completely different look.”
Despite the departures of several key players, including Jocelyn Alo, the Sooners enter the 2023 season as the preseason No. 1-ranked team. Here’s a look at three storylines for the Sooners as they begin their season at the Mark Campbell Invitational on Thursday:
Sooners to rotate four pitchers
It’s been a priority for Gasso that the Sooners’ pitching staff be deep, versatile and see plenty of opportunities.
She’s confident she has that in Jordy Bahl, Nicole May, Alex Storako and lefthander Kierston Deal.
“All four of these pitchers can help us significantly and I’m excited about each one of them in a different way,” Gasso said.
At the top of that list is likely Bahl and May.
Bahl emerged as a freshman phenom last season, as she finished with a 22-1 record on the mound with 205 strikeouts while only surrendering 22 earned runs in 141.1 innings. She enters this season as the reigning Big 12 Co-Pitcher of the Year.
Bahl missed much of the postseason with a forearm injury, sitting out the Big 12 Tournament, the NCAA regionals and super regionals before returning in the WCWS. It was a slow healing process for the sophomore this summer, and her throwing was limited as she worked through the injury.
Gasso said it’s been “awhile” since Bahl’s been healthy, but she should be ready to go to start the season.
“Jordy is feeling good, looking good,” Gasso said. “Excited to get back and pick up where she left off.”
The Sooners were able to withstand Bahl’s injury thanks to the efforts of May and the graduated Hope Trautwein. May recorded 99 strikeouts and 17 earned runs allowed in 177.1 innings last season.
“I think it’s going to be her best season,” Gasso said.
Storako comes to the Sooners after four seasons with Michigan, compiling over 900 strikeouts — 300 of them came last season— and a 1.71 earned run average during his Wolverines tenure. She was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 2021.
Deal was the consensus No. 1 player in the 2022 class and figures to see opportunities this season.
“She’s crafty,” Gasso said. “She moves the ball. She can change speeds. She’s just tough. Tough to face.”
Fellow freshman SJ Guerin, the No. 20 recruit in 2022, will redshirt.
Even without Alo, Sooners offense should be ‘daunting’
The former OU power hitter was more than just a softball icon. The NCAA’s all-time home run leader was the foundation of the Sooners offense.
Gasso knows it’s unlikely the Sooners can replace her impact on and off the field.
“Did we replace Jocelyn Alo? No. It’s impossible,” Gasso said. “But it’s going to take more than one person to fill those shoes.”
Luckily for the Sooners, they’ve got more than a few candidates to pick up the slack.
Tiare Jennings returns for her junior season after batting .401 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs last season. Senior shortstop Grace Lyons emerged as one of the nation’s most productive hitters last season, and others batters like Jayda Coleman, Rylie Boone and Alyssa Brito should be able to step up for the Sooners.
“I would say yes,” Gasso said when asked if the batting lineup is daunting. “It’s good. It’s solid. The swings will wow you, and it’s throughout (the lineup). It’s sitting on the bench and it’s waiting for them. That’s my biggest issue is we have such a deep bench. How do I make all these athletes fill part of it and engaged? That’s probably going to be the hardest job I have.”
Sooners face a tough schedule
OU run-ruled a ton of opponents last season.
That may not be the case this year, at least initially.
They open at the Mark Campbell Invitational in Irvine, California, where they’ll face three top-25 opponents in No. 16 Duke, No. 17 Stanford and No. 14 Washington. At the Mary Nutter Classic later this month, they’ll face No. 2 UCLA.
It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what Gasso prefers.
“I don’t know that we get better with run rules,” Gasso said. “It’s those 2-1 ballgames, or those tight, hard-fought, extra-inning games. Those are when you really find gold, you find who is clutch, you find who loves those big moments.
“Those close games are where your best memories are. It’s where you grow most as a team. … This team is really excited about the level of this. It’s probably one of the top power ranking schedules that we’ve had in a long time.”
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