OU softball: Patty Gasso has 'never seen anything' like Tiare Jennings' debut

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Joe Buettner, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
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Feb. 17—At the risk of raining on the Oklahoma freshman's parade, coach Patty Gasso spoke candidly with Tiare Jennings following her historic debut weekend.

"I don't want to bring you down," Gasso recalls telling Jennings, "but I don't know that you will ever do that again."

It's hard to argue Gasso's assumption. Jennings went 12 for 13 in the box for 12 RBIs, five home runs and a .923 batting average in her first four games as a Sooner.

She not only earned her first Big 12 Player of the Week award, but the National Fastpitch Coaches Association named her its national player of the week, making her the first freshman to win the initial NFCA Player of the Week honor of the season since 2008.

"I've never seen anything like it, I think, in my career," Gasso said. "Everything she hit was hard. It looked very easy."

Jennings, a San Pedro, California, native and her home state's 2019-20 Gatorade Softball Player of the Year, still experienced a few nerves ahead of her OU debut.

Hitting a home run in her first at-bat — a deep two-run shot to right field — quickly eased her opening-day jitters.

"The best about hitting that home run was coming to the dugout to those girls," Jennings said. "I've been watching them on TV and looking up to them for so long. So, just coming in a dugout and seeing them so happy for me, I think, was one of the best moments of my softball career."

Jennings has plenty more softball to play, including a trip to Texas this weekend for a Friday doubleheader with UTSA and Sam Houston State in Huntsville before playing against Houston twice on Saturday.

She's at least proven she won't need much of a transition period into high-level college softball from starring at St. Anthony's High School and her Orange County Batbusters travel-ball squad.

Fellow infielder Grace Lyons has helped Jennings come along in her first year on campus. Considering Lyons' opening-weekend line of 10-for-15 in the box, six home runs and 12 RBIs, there were few examples better to follow than Lyons, who's now a sophomore.

"I think everyone has a played role," Jennings said of her development. "All the older girls and young girls, all the coaches are absolutely amazing.

"Being a middle infielder, I definitely work with Grace Lyons a lot, and she has definitely taught me a whole bunch. She's just an amazing person on and off the field. So just getting to learn from her every day is something that's really cool."

Perhaps Jennings' biggest key to her early success, though, has been her composure and maturity.

Despite hitting three home runs in her first game, Gasso said Jennings didn't get lost in her unprecedented start to her college career.

She wasn't actively trying to help OU set a new NCAA single-game home runs record, which it did with 13.

"She wasn't wowed by it, she just kinda went about her business and you felt that," Gasso said. "... That was the beauty of it, is she didn't try to [pad her stats], she just went out and felt confident and she gets it. She's a pretty mature freshman."

Joe Buettner

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