NORMAN — Oklahoma’s No. 1-ranked softball team entered the sixth inning of their NCAA Norman Regional game Saturday with a 3-0 lead and seemingly a firm grasp of the task at hand.
Sure, the top-seeded and defending national champion Sooners could have led by more had they not had a runner thrown out at home, another gunned down at third base and left a handful of baserunners stranded.
OU senior right-handed starter Hope Trautwein had surrendered one measly hit and allowed zero walks through the first 5 1/3 innings against a next-to-last-place team that had finished with a 6-18 record in Southeastern Conference play this season.
With the Sooners just five outs from completing a second straight postseason shutout victory at Marita Hynes Field, the Aggies got an unexpected single from No. 9-hole hitter Cayden Baker. Next came prolific leadoff hitter Haley Lee, who previously had collected the first regional hit against the OU pitching staff, which had opened with a combined no-hitter in Friday’s 14-0 rout of Prairie View A&M.
Lee deposited her team-best 15th home run of the season well beyond the left-field fence and suddenly OU’s lead had dwindled to 3-2.
“I didn’t think there was more pressure after that home run,” Trautwein said afterwards. “But that being said, the whole game is pressure.”
It was only the second home run Trautwein had yielded all season, the first since Feb. 25 against Long Beach State. “You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Trautwein said. “That girl (Lee) is really good and we knew that going into this game.”
Trautwein was able to retire the final five hitters in order.
Sooners Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso embraced Texas A&M’s competitiveness. “This was an opportunity for us to feel pressure,” Gasso said. “It was good for all of us to feel that. Going into the seventh, you just feel a little bit tight. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s just get through this.’ Then Hope, boom, 1,2,3. It was great.”
With their one-run survival, the Sooners (51-2) will advance to their 12th straight NCAA Super Regional with a victory on Sunday at 1 pm CT. If OU loses that game, an if-necessary game against the same team would begin 30 minutes later.
“Today was the biggest game we’ve played this season,” Gasso said afterwards. “Tomorrow will be the biggest game we’ve played this season. It just keeps going that way.”
Saturday began so promising for OU, which took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a lead-off homer from centerfielder Jayda Colemanher first home run since April 16 at Texas.
In the end, however, the Sooners went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and ended up stranding six on base.
“They brought in three good pitchers,” Gasso said of the Aggies. “It was tough to figure them out. But at least we got to see all three, which is important for us moving forward (if OU faces the Aggies again in the Norman Regional). Seeing all three pitchers is going to help us understand what We need to do better. I mean, they’re good. We need to do a better job of seeing pitches we want to swing at. We could have induced some walks. I felt like we were chasing things.”
Gasso expressed no regrets instructing Tiare Jennings to run home on Grace Lyons’ double to centerfield that could have given OU a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Jocelyn Alo had singled and scored ahead of Jennings. Aggie’s shortstop Koko Wooley’s relay thrown from well beyond second base reached home plate on the fly and was right on target.
“I thought it was huge coming out of that first inning only giving up two runs in that situation,” Aggies coach Jo Evans said.
In the fourth inning, Coleman made the score 3-0 when she doubled down the right-field line but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple. An initial “safe” call was overturned by instant replay.
“It (the home run) just happened to go out and (the double) just happened to land,” said a smiling Coleman, who went 2 for 3 with two RBI. “That’s just how the game is. Sometimes it lands. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m glad it landed today.”
Again, no regrets from Gasso sending Coleman to third for a potential triple.
“It was just trying to push, push, apply pressure,” Gasso explained. “Basically, they made some great relays. They earned them. That didn’t bother me at all. Those are things you have to do in the postseason is force other teams to make plays.”
Trautwein allowed the three hits, struck out two and had no walks in going the distance to push her season record to 17-1.
“They’re a good-hitting team,” Gasso said of Texas A&M (30-27). “I think Hope will tell you that. It shows in order to go where you want to go, all parts of your game really need to be on-point. It’s really important that the other parts of your game are holding on while you try to catch that other part.”
The Aggies hit the ball hard on multiple occasions, but often directly at defenders.
“We squared the ball up a lot,” Evans said. “We barreled the ball up a bunch and couldn’t get any luck for sure. I thought we did a nice job at the plate to compete. We expected to win. We came here to win. This is not some sort of moral victory Because it was a close game. We came here to win.”
Oklahoma advances to the regional final with the opponent to be determined after Saturday’s elimination games between Minnesota, Prairie View A&M and Texas A&M. First pitch is set for 1 pm CT at Marita Hynes Field and can be seen via one of ESPN’s family of networks, with official designation to be announced. The game can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma and nationwide on The Varsity app.