By CORBIN HOSLER
Oklahoma showed in the Big 12 opener last week just how hungry the top-ranked Sooners were for another conference title. Unanimous No. 1 Oklahoma jumped on No. 17 Baylor early and often on the way to outscoring the Bears 25-6 through three games.
At times yelling from the base paths to a cheering dugout, the Sooners were animatedly fired up in the three-game sweep, extending their winning streak to seven games and dominating along the way.
“The Big 12 is just a different mentality,” senior catcher Jessica Shults said after one of the wins. “They came out ready to play and so did we. There’s nothing like playing in the Big 12.”
But after opening at home, the Sooners (34-2, 3-0) now will have to take that same energy on the road as they travel to Texas Tech (27-15, 1-5) for a three-game series beginning at 7 p.m. tonight. It’s the first of seven straight games away from home for OU.
The Sooners sit in second place in the Big 12 behind 5-0 Texas, against whom OU will have a pivotal three-game series within two weeks. But first, the Sooners must hold serve against the Red Raiders, who started the season 8-3 and then winning 10 in a row a month ago. But things have gone downhill since, and entering tonight’s game Tech has lost five in a row and eight of 10. That includes series losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State to open the conference schedule.
The Sooners enter the weekend leading the country in a number of offensive categories in addition to sporting the nation’s best one-two pitching duo. Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne have ERAs around 1.00 and are holding opposing hitters to a .148 average. They’ve also combined to throw 19 shutouts, including an 8-0 run-rule victory over Baylor in the series’ final game on Sunday.
For OU, the challenge is to avoid a letdown after last week’s charged series against Baylor, which along with Texas was one of the only teams expected to challenge the Sooners for conference supremacy. But coach Patty Gasso isn’t worried about that after the all-around performance she watched her team put on last week.
“It’s really been a team effort,” she said. “Our pitchers are getting out there and creating good momentum, and our hitters are extending at-bats and getting on. This team just feeds off of each other.”
A consistent patience at the plate is what Gasso contributed to the Sooners’ recent success on offense. Oklahoma’s hitters are led by leadoff batter Lauren Chamberlain’s .452 batting average and NCAA-best 18 home runs.
“Our hitters are doing all the little things they need to do to be successful,” Gasso said. “They’re fighting counts and really owning the strike zone. That’s been a huge part of our success.”