Oklahoma and Texas finished one-two in the Big 12 softball standings this season, both with impressive 40-win seasons and losses in the single digits. In the Sooners’ case, they only lost four of 51 games this year, which was good enough not only for a 10th Big 12 title but the nation’s No. 1 ranking, as well.
The reward for such outstanding seasons is that both the Sooners and Longhorns get to host one of the 16 regionals in the NCAA Softball Championships, which get under way on Friday. OU meets Marist (35-21) in the opening round of the NCAA Championship. Arkansas (34-18) and Fordham (35-21) are the other two schools in the Norman Regional.
Oklahoma has been to the NCAA Tournament in every year of coach Patty Gasso’s 19 seasons heading the Sooners’ softball program. The Sooners advanced all the way to the Women’s College World Series last season, their seventh WCWS appearance in school history, but lost games two and three of a best-of-three championship series to Alabama.
There is always considerable pressure on the tournament overall No. 1 seed, but Gasso said her team is handling it well. “The team has been very mature about the No. 1 ranking, they’ve been there almost the entire season,” Gasso said. “They don’t talk about it much. They don’t get too high or too low, they just conduct their business.”
Oklahoma leads the country in scoring and ERA. The Sooners, behind the pitching arm of Keilani Ricketts, the defending USA Softball Pitcher of the Year, defeated its opponents this season by an average score of 7-1. Five of Ricketts’ 27 wins this year were no-hitters. she lost only once.
The Austin Regional features host Texas (44-8), as well as Houston (40-18), South Carolina (32-23) and Army (35-24), the Longhorns’ first-round opponent. The Longhorns come in with the No. 4 overall seed in the 64-team field and are participating in the NCAA softball regionals for the ninth consecutive year. Texas has a lights-out pitcher of its own in senior Blair Luna. Luna appeared in 32 game this season with a record of 25-6. She leads the nation in strikeouts per seven innings (11.9) and has yielded opponents an average of just three hits over seven innings.
The third Big 12 team to make this year’s NCAA Softball Championship is Baylor. The Lady Bears (39-15) finished third in the Big 12 and are making their third straight NCAA appearance. They are one of the four teams in the College Station Regional, along with host Texas A&M, which has the identical record as Baylor, Arizona (32-24) and Penn (30-18). This is the second year in a row in which Baylor’s opening-round opponent (Arizona) has been at team from the Pac-12 Conference.
The winner of the double-elimination College Station Regional will advance to the Super Regional round (the Sweet 16) against the winner of the Norman Regional. The winner of the Austin Regional will move on to the Super Regional against the winner of the Mobile (Ala.) Regional. The teams competing in Mobile are host South Alabama, Florida State, Mississippi Valley and Mississippi State.