OU softball: Sooners get chance to bounce back with tough slate of games

Feb. 23—OU softball head coach Patty Gasso had a warning when speaking to the media before the season started.

"We're going to lose games. It's a learning experience."

With a 52-game regular season schedule, losses should hardly be a surprise. But as Oklahoma looks to make a run for a third-straight national title, expectations are high and every loss can seem like a gut-check.

Last season the Sooners didn't drop their first game until April 16 — 40 games into the regular season. The year before it took 36 games.

This year that first loss came in just the second weekend of the season. The Sooners fell to Baylor, 4-3, on Sunday and dropped out of the top spot in national rankings.

Gasso admitted that it can be a challenge to learn to adapt to playing for a program like Oklahoma.

"They do it themselves," Gasso said about her team. "They talk about how to get better and (what) we need to change and so forth. Some good things came from it. I'm anxious. There's a different kind of energy. And there's just that lingering pressure that is on. There's, sometimes, the overwhelming amount of people that want autographs and are there. It gets smothering. That's no excuse. But it's just constantly on your guard and that's something that we have to get used to."

The Sooners have plenty of new faces, too.

They added four transfers (Alynah Torres, Haley Lee, Alex Storako and Cydney Sanders) and four highly-ranked recruits (Kierston Deal, Jocelyn Erickson, SJ Geurin and Avery Hodge) in the 2023 class.

The Sooners will have a big opportunity to bounce back this weekend. They'll head to the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic to take on Cal. State-Fullerton, Texas A&M, Utah, Loyola Marymount and top-ranked UCLA.

It'll be a string of tough games for the Sooners, but that last matchup will have the softball world's attention. The pressure will be on the Sooners to respond in a highly-anticipated early-season matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2.

"It's definitely going to be a test, because we've got really good competition," Gasso said. "We're going to have to play well, pitch well and hit well, but they understand that there's a lot of growth that needs to happen.

"This program might seem like it has a lot of returners, which it does, but there were some pretty significant players that we lost and I think one that was just so in charge as a leader was Linnsey Elam. I don't know if you can build or make natural leaders."

In Elam's absence, Gasso said the Sooners have taken a committee-approach in terms of leadership this season, though, redshirt senior short stop Grace Lyons is a player that has emerged in that role.

The Sooners begin the weekend with a pair of games against CSU-Fullerton (6-4) and Texas A&M (9-2) at 2:30 and 5 p.m. respectively. The Titans are coming off an upset over a Tennessee team that was ranked inside the top-10.

The Aggies are receiving votes in the USA Today softball rankings and is No. 19 in the latest D1 Softball national poll.

"I mean, there's good competition up and down, and what I'm really going to sit back and pay attention to is the camaraderie and the fight of our team," Gasso said. "Against Baylor, it was kind of a ho-hum kind of attitude that is just unlike us. I'm glad we got to see what that looked like, but we've had some powwows, this team has figured some things out, they're ready to go into Palm Springs with a new approach."

Tarik Masri is a sports reporter for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing tarik@normantranscript.com