Clay Horning: If Sooners hope to win more than one way, Gasso's team still a mystery

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May 20—Still a mystery.

Or, perhaps, Sooner fans better hope their softball team remains a mystery.

If it's not, Oklahoma has only one path to the program's fifth national championship.

Bash. Mash. Slug.

Go deep.

Pile it on.

Run it up.

There may be several ways to say it but they're all the same.

If Oklahoma can win only that way — knocking the cover off the ball; look, another way to say it — its path is narrow and quite possibly unprecedented, because who's ever won the Women's College World Series without terrific pitching?

Coach Patty Gasso, herself, addressed it around the edges during her Wednesday media meet, two days in advance of tonight's Norman Regional opening at Marita Hynes Field.

She began by questioning her own squad's fitness to be tagged with the top seed in the entire draw.

"I don't know that I agree that we should have been selected No. 1 to be honest," she said.

Though she'd moved to another topic, pitcher Giselle Juarez, the Sooners' best hurler two seasons ago, drawing five of OU's six WCWS starts, what she said was enough to understand Juarez is not that pitcher now, on the back end of arm surgery, and maybe that's another reason the top seed came as a surprise.

"I think the hardest part was her pressing to be who she [had been] and accepting that it's just going to take a different road," Gasso said. "That's what we have been figuring out."

Though Gasso believes Juarez has offered strong signs in practice, she's still riding a 2.53 earned run average over her 91 1/3 innings, well back of Shannon Saile's 1.18 over 77 and Nicole May's 1.62 over 60 1/3.

It's telling, too, that even as Juarez has given up more offense than her staff mates, she's thrown more innings than both, even off surgery, indicating Gasso's confidence in all of them may not be supreme.

The Sooners have won 19 times this season by 10 runs or more, they've scored in the 20s and 30s and though they've played nine games decided by three or fewer runs, they've played only one real pitcher's duel all season, against Mexico's national team.

OU prevailed 2-1 behind Saile in the circle that day, March 20, a contest she tossed all seven innings, allowed four hits and, perhaps most impressive, after allowing a game-tying run in the top of the seventh, remained in the game and gave up no more.

But that's just one game. Only one other time have the Sooners failed to score at least five runs.

The day they played Oklahoma State for the regular-season conference title, nobody shut the Cowgirls down. OU won 11-8.

The beauty of the Sooners' historic offense is its pitchers are just about always windmilling with the lead, a state of affairs that might have them throwing more hittable pitches down the middle, yet should also mean they're throwing confidently, pressure free.

The mystery is how this thing comes together, because if Gasso has three No. 1 starters, she really has none and it's hard to imagine not needing or having a go-to you believe can win 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 and still win it all.

OU can't run-rule everybody forever can it?

Though it may not be a parallel, it's nice to remember, way back in 2000, senior Lana Moran entered the World Series 26-2 with a 1.27 earned run average and freshman Jennifer Stewart 30-6 with a 1.41.

Moran got the opening start against Cal and pitched well, allowing one run over five innings. Nonetheless, Gasso took her out, Stewart came in for the sixth and never left, doing the rest of OU's pitching on the way to its first national championship.

Maybe Gasso already has a feeling. It might not direct her this weekend, but maybe the next one or the next one. And maybe it will work again as it has in the past.

Until then, the Sooners remain a mystery and that's better than knowing they can win only one way.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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