June 1 (Reuters) – After Oklahoma’s win over Central Florida in the NCAA Super Regional last weekend, Sooner coach Patty Gasso said her team was beginning to peak.
When asked Wednesday if there’s a reason the Sooners are playing their best ball right now, Gasso couldn’t come up with a specific reason.
“I don’t know the secret recipe for it. If I did that, I wouldn’t be training,” Gasso joked. “I would sell it and probably have a very successful life [on] an island somewhere.”
For Gasso, it could be as simple as getting her team to understand this weekend’s assignments. Either way, the team is confident they’re doing their best at the right time.
The Sooners enter the Women’s College World Series as the top overall seed and betting favorite to win a second straight championship and the program’s sixth title. They have the best record (54-2) and lead the country in several key stats including scoring, ERA, on-base percentage and a host of others.
It’s a position the Sooners are no stranger to, having entered the WCWS as the No. 1 last season and walking away with a championship. And while most strive to do their best in the postseason, Gasso’s teams are able to do so naturally.
“We’ve really started ticking upwards in our program in the past,” Gasso said. “And I think a lot of that is just the competition and the excitement, and now it really has a trophy or some other meaning that will stay in the history of your program forever.
“I just think it’s the journey and the building and the struggle and fighting together. They dream of this team being on the biggest stage because they know they can do their best there.”
Part of that journey, Gasso said, involves learning from the team’s mistakes. The Sooners haven’t had many of those this season — they’ve won 54 of 56 games and 38 came by run rule — but the team has seen a big improvement since the start of the season.
For redshirt veteran Jocelyn Alo, there is one moment that stands out that helped them achieve a sixth straight finish at the WCWS.
“I think I saw this team really head in the right direction after our loss to Texas, and I just saw how we got out of some really tough situations and handled them with grace and passion,” Alo said .
Despite their dominance, the Sooners know that winning another national championship won’t be easy.
The eight-team field includes Oklahoma State and Texas, the only two teams to defeat the Sooners this season. The Cowgirls (41-12) recently defeated OU in last month’s Big 12 Tournament Championship, their second loss of the season.
The Sooners could quickly be paired with the Longhorns as both teams are on the same side of the bracket. The Longhorns defeated 4th-ranked Arkansas in the Super Regional last weekend to advance to the WCWS.
Rounding out the rest of the field are five-man UCLA, No. 14 from Florida, Oregon State, Arizona and nine-man Northwestern, with whom the Sooners meet Thursday at 1:30 p.m. to open the tournament. Arizona’s rise was particularly impressive as they finished second to last in the Pac 12 standings before winning all five games to gain promotion to the WCWS.
Although the Sooners have swept their way to WCWS, Gasso is adamant it hasn’t been easy and that they don’t overlook anyone.
“Texas A&M [was] a challenge,” said Gasso. “UCF was a challenge. They were also a pretty complete team. They had good pitching and they also had an aggressive and fast offense but they also had some power in it. We were very prepared. We don’t take anyone lightly, ever, because then you get beaten.
“Any team can do this because the teams that have come here are still playing a crazy role. They haven’t been home in weeks, but they don’t care because they’re in this beautiful bubble right now where they don’t [want] burst.”
The Sooners are confident they’re playing as well as they have all season. And they look forward to the challenge of winning another championship.
“We can’t get away with being mediocre this week,” Gasso said. “We can not. We have to do our best and I think that excites her. It’s very tempting for them to be pushed to see how good we can be.”