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How OU softball is chasing 'unheard of' NCAA mark of winning four straight WCWS titles

OU softball coach Patty Gasso acknowledged the uniqueness of this season right off the bat.

“This one is just different,” Gasso said just before the Sooners opened their season in February. “The expectation — winning four in a row is unheard of. Unheard of. You can’t even wrap your might around it. Even winning three. For them, they want to be a team that did something that maybe nobody in my lifetime will ever do on a softball field again. That is something special. They like to be able to chase those moments.”

Nearly four months later, after a season of ups and downs despite returning the core of a team that dominated college softball like no other, the Sooners open the Women’s College World Series, where they’ll play Duke at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Devon Park.

Last season, OU became just the second program to win the WCWS three consecutive seasons — joining the 1988-90 UCLA squads — while setting records for best winning percentage and finishing the season on an NCAA Division I-record 53-game winning streak.

With a large senior class, the Sooners (54-6) were heavily favored to win yet another title.

The road has been far from easy.

More: Why OU softball coach Patty Gasso has the 'best senior class' in NCAA history

Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso talks to her team Wednesday during the practice and media day for the Women's College World Series at Devon Park in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso talks to her team Wednesday during the practice and media day for the Women's College World Series at Devon Park in Oklahoma City.

OU extended its winning streak to 71, winning the first 18 games of the season, before falling to Louisiana on March 3 to wrap up its first weekend at Love’s Field.

The Sooners dropped two of three at Texas in early April, their first Big 12 series loss since 2011, then fell to BYU, 9-4, at home the next weekend.

To close out the regular season, the Sooners dropped back-to-back games to their Bedlam rivals at Love’s Field before rebounding to close the season with a victory.

“I would say one of the most difficult parts of this season was living at No. 1,” catcher and captain Kinzie Hansen said. “I think that’s something we’ve had to realize this year. We weren’t at the end, but … it’s difficult. The past three years, it’s been a blessing. But living up there — it’s really hard to get there, but living up there I would say is even harder.”

The pressure, some players say, got to them.

“I definitely put a little too much pressure on myself,” Tiare Jennings said. “But I think it was good for me because I’ve never felt that before.”

More: Why Patty Gasso created 'Chaos Coordinators' for OU softball amid another WCWS title chase

Oklahoma pitching coach Jennifer Rocha talks with pitcher Kelly Maxwell (28) beside catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) during a May 23 softball game between the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Florida State Seminoles during the first game of the Norman Super Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma won on a run rule 11-3.
Oklahoma pitching coach Jennifer Rocha talks with pitcher Kelly Maxwell (28) beside catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) during a May 23 softball game between the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Florida State Seminoles during the first game of the Norman Super Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma won on a run rule 11-3.

How the Sooners handled those struggles has helped mold them.

“There have been highs, and there’s been lows,” Gasso said. “But they’ve handled the lows like women. They’ve sat in a room together and they really worked things out, whereas maybe other programs would say, ‘Leave it alone, let it go.’ We know that doesn’t work.

“Our culture is very important to us. They may not all be best friends, but when they’re on the field, they are sisters. You feel that. You feel that connection. You feel that energy. We wouldn’t be here without that.”

For Gasso, though, the toughest parts of the season haven’t been those losses, but were instead during the fall when the Sooners were mostly practicing against themselves and still working out at their old home before a gradual mid-season move to Love’s Field.

“That fall at the University of Oklahoma on that Marita Hynes Field is pretty grueling,” Hansen said. “When we step on this field here in OKC, that’s when it 100% pays off.”

But after that loss to Oklahoma State on May 4, the Sooners regrouped and refocused.

“That Sunday we carried into the postseason,” third baseman Alyssa Brito said. “I know that was a grind. … I think that day specifically we focused on celebrating one another. From then on, that’s what we’ve treated this entire rest of the season and this chapter of what we’re writing here, just celebrating the moments we have. … It’s cherishing these moments that we get to play on the field together. Also making that impact — that lasting impact — not only for the program, but for our team.”

More: Mussatto: Texas coach Mike White is alone in wanting to move WCWS from Oklahoma City

The Sooners won the regular-season finale 8-2 on May 5 and haven’t looked back.

They enter the WCWS on a nine-game winning streak, and although they’re the No. 2 seed, the Sooners sure look like favorites to come away with the title.

“Not a real deep thinker when it comes to things like that,” Gasso said earlier in the season when asked about building a dynasty. “I just go. We try to be a real humble group and not look back at our laurels. We just want to keep running forward and keep raising the OU flag and keep being the team everybody is trying to get. They’ve embraced that.”

While there might’ve been pressure on the Sooners to make history at some point, the players say they’ve let that pressure go as the chances to make that history a reality draw near.

“We don’t have to listen (to) what anybody else has to say about us except for us,” Hansen said.

More: WCWS media day recap: Stanford softball 'excited' to see what NiJaree Canady does in OKC

Thursday's WCWS games

  • Game 1: Alabama (37-18) vs. UCLA (42-10), 11 a.m., ESPN

  • Game 2: Oklahoma (54-6) vs. Duke (52-7), 1:30 p.m., ESPN

  • Game 3: Stanford (48-15) vs. Texas (52-8), 6 p.m., ESPN2

  • Game 4: Oklahoma State (49-10) vs. Florida (51-13), 8:30 p.m., ESPN2

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU softball chasing 'unheard of' record of four straight WCWS titles