Saturday, May 27th 2023, 6:36 pm
The Oklahoma softball team now owns the all-time Division I record for consecutive victories with 48 straight.
And, fortunately for the Sooners, they're still counting.
The streak's toughest triumph no doubt was the one that set the record as top-ranked OU outlasted No. 16-seeded Clemson 8-7 in nine innings in the Norman Super Regional.
The final home crowd was also the largest in stadium history with a record gathering of 2,127 on an sunbathed Saturday.
So much emotion was tied into Saturday's outcome.
In addition to reaching 48 straight, it potentially was the final game at Marita Hynes Field with the Sooners (56-1) looking to keep their quest alive for a third straight national championship by advancing to a seventh straight Women's College World Series and their 11th in the last 12 seasons.
And all this came on OU head coach Patty Gasso's birthday.
The Sooners and their fans can now exhale, but not without experiencing some serious hyperventilating.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning and teammates on first and second base, OU senior catcher Kinzie Hansen faced an 0-2 count against USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finalist Valerie Cagle in what could have been the Sooners' final swing.
All Cagle essentially had to do was keep the ball in the yard to seal the victory. Hansen did not accommodate, however, and deposited Cagle's third pitch into the left-field bleachers to force a 7-7 tie.
"She's a great pitcher," Hansen said of Cagle. "I will not discredit her. She was throwing 71 (mph) and then she was coming at me with this off-speed thing. I took it for a strike when I was down 0-2. I feel like being a catcher sometimes gives you an advantage. As a pitch-caller, I'm thinking in my head that I'm getting it again, might as well swing at it. It worked out.
"(OU third baseman) Alyssa Brito was in my ear telling me 'She has to beat you three times.'" Hansen said. "I knew I was going to get another. The Sooners aren't over until the last strike. We're not done until the last out is made and is sealed. We were in the huddle saying it's never over. It's not done. That was really the approach that I had. I know that younger Kinzie might have come in there a little hot-headed and swinging at everything and trying to end the game. I was really just trying to keep my composure that this is the last game, potentially, at Marita Hynes.
"I've never sprinted around the bases that fast in my life. Not even when I hit the inside-the-parker against Washington. I think I ran faster today. I heard my teammates yelling right when I hit it, and I just wanted to get home. It felt like a mosh pit. Everybody was just shoving each other. My tongue was bleeding. I'm pretty sure I got punched in the face. It was just chaotic. I knew right then and there, this team is not done in 2023 until we decide we're done."
Asked if the pitch got away from Cagle, Clemson coach John Rittman said, "I think she (Hansen) just hit a good pitch It's just one of those where you tip your cap."
On the first pitch in the top of the ninth, OU second baseman Tiare Jennings blasted a solo homer to center to set the final margin. It was Jennings' second homer of the game.
"We know this," Gasso said, "we're never out of a game. No matter what. We could be down by five, four, whatever. We're not out of the game. And we believe that. And we've done it on this stage with so much at stake. And the stakes are higher. Can we do this? I guess we can. They don't doubt it."
"Tiare came up big to end the game for us," Hansen said. "It's never just one person. (leftfielder Kylie) Boone and everybody had to be on base for me. It could have easily been a different outcome. It's not just about that one swing. It's about the other swings that came before me. Kudos to my other teammates who did their job as well."
When OU centerfielder Jayda Coleman squeezed the final out of a game that took three hours, 45 minutes to complete, the Sooners' immediate reaction was one of exhausted relief rather a celebration of owning the longest winning streak in D-I softball history.
Gasso wept during a postgame hug with her coaching staff and family but was surprisingly composed in the postgame interview session.
"I'm in the moment," Gasso said. "It might not look like it, but this is how I live in the moment. When you all leave, I'll probably lay out in the middle of the outfield and cry my eyes out."
The Sooners' late heroics makes Gasso's birthday gift even more appetizing.
"I always pray that my birthday's not on a weekend because I know where I'm going to be hopefully," said Gasso, who had to endure a pregame chorus of "Happy birthday," from the record-setting crowd. "Special crowd. The crowd was wonderful. I'm not a person … I want to kind of hide from it. It's hard for me to accept stuff but they were fantastic and the team got me a wonderful gift card."
A gift card from where?
"I love IHOP," Gasso said. "I like French toast and coffee at IHOP. I go with my husband every once in a while, so they got me an IHOP and I was pretty excited about it."
The game's outset certainly was auspicious for the Sooners as Coleman hit the third pitch of the game over the center-field wall for a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Jennings hit the fifth pitch of her at-bat over the right-field wall for a 2-0 lead, marking the 10th time this season OU hit back-to-back homers.
In the top of the fourth, Brito added a solo homer run of her own to center field to make it 3-0. An RBI on a fielder's choice pushed the score to 4-0.
The bottom of the fourth is when OU's magical journey began to veer off course as the Tigers exploded for seven unanswered runs.
It began with a line-drive, two-out, 3-run homer to left by second baseman Maddie Moore that narrowed the Tigers' deficit to 4-3.
A four-run eruption in the bottom of the fifth began with McKenzie Clark's 2-run homer to center to give Clemson a 5-4 advantage. A bases-loaded walk made the score 6-4 and a fielder's choice RBI upped the Sooners' deficit to three runs.
It marked just the second time this season OU trailed by three runs. The previous occurrence was in a 4-3 loss at Baylor on Feb. 19, which remains the Sooners' only setback this season.
In just its fourth year of existence, Clemson softball quickly has proven itself to be among the nation's finest programs.
"We got a lot of help from the long ball today," Rittman said. "Like I mentioned earlier, there's such little margin for error when you play Oklahoma. You can't make too many mistakes. We were just one strike away from winning the game. We didn't get that 21st out when we needed it. What doesn't kill you is only going to make you stronger."
This is a developing story, refresh page for updates.
October 4th, 2023
October 4th, 2023
October 3rd, 2023
October 3rd, 2023
October 3rd, 2023
October 3rd, 2023