By CORBIN HOSLER
A dominant regular season paid for Oklahoma on Sunday, with the No. 1 Sooners earning the top overall seed the NCAA Division 1 softball tournament. Along with that comes home-field advantage throughout the tournament, starting with a 7:30 p.m. matchup Friday against Marist at Marita Hynes Field.
It is the fifth time in the past six years the Sooners have hosted a regional. The Sooners (47-4) have never faced Marist (30-24) before, but OU is 4-0 all-time against teams from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, in which the Red Foxes finished the season 10-6.
On the other side of the four-team bracket is Fordham (32-20) and Arkansas (34-17), which will square off immediately before Oklahoma on Friday. Arkansas figures to be the biggest threat to the Sooners after the Razorbacks finished with a winning record in the tough SEC behind All-SEC sophomore pitcher Kimmy Beasley.
Seven SEC teams will host regionals this weekend, the most of any conference. The only other Big 12 team to host is Texas, which finished second in the conference.
With pairings announced and four days before the first pitch is thrown, OU coach Patty Gasso said the Sooners will stay busy preparing for the weekend.
“There will be a lot of research, a lot of preparation and film and getting everyone on the same page,” she said. “We’re excited to get started.”
The Sooners have an opportunity to advance to the Women’s College World Series without leaving the state for the second year in a row. To do that, they’ll have to win three games in a double-elimination bracket. If the Sooners win Friday, they’ll face off against the Fordham-Arkansas winner on Saturday and would have a chance to punch their ticket to the super regional on Sunday.
Though Gasso and her staff will be busy gameplanning for the possible matchups, she said the most important thing will not be x’s and o’s but whichever team comes out ready to play.
And, after clinching the Big 12 title on Saturday and ending the regular season in style with a Keilani Ricketts no-hitter over Oklahoma State in Sunday’s 5-0 victory in Stillwater, Gasso is confident her team will be ready.
“I felt really good about how we played today,” she said. “We ended well and we’re taking that into the postseason. Keilani was in absolute control today and everyone was doing their thing at the plate.”
Earning the tournament’s top seed is a major benefit to the Sooners, who have been ranked No. 1 in the country ever since the second week of the season. But, while the Sooners are “honored” to be given the top seed, Gasso said it doesn’t amount to much more than bragging rights once games start.
“It puts you in a pretty good position and gives you home-field advantage, but ultimately the work is still right in front of us,” she said. “You’ve still got to get it done on your field.”