How OU softball star Tiare Jennings got back to playing freely ahead of Norman Regional

NORMAN — Tiare Jennings had been pressing.

Throughout the regular season, something was off. Opposing pitchers were pitching to OU softball's senior leader differently. She was seeing more pitches out of the zone and her numbers dipped.

Add the pressures of a four-peat and the anxieties about her future after her senior year. Seeking guidance, Jennings connected with a mentor of hers that was once in her shoes: former OU star and current Oregon assistant coach Sydney Romero, and has played freely since.

“This year, I definitely put a little too much pressure on myself," Jennings said after practice Wednesday. "But I think it was good for me because I’ve never felt that before. So I think learning how to get out of that was probably one of the biggest things, most positive things I could’ve learned. So now going into postseason if that happens again, I can quickly get myself out of that automatically."

Jennings has looked more relaxed the last two weekends, homering against Oklahoma State and recording a an RBI-double against Texas for her 300th career hit. Jennings is fourth all-time on the Sooners' hits list behind Jocelyn Alo (343), Norrelle Dickson (328) and Romero (320).

More: USA Softball College Player of the Year finalists include one Sooner, one Cowgirl

"Things looked a little bit easier for her (last weekend)," Gasso said Wednesday. "There’s been a lot of pressing and their lives are so different. I can’t even tell you what they’re doing in their lives because they have a lot of obligations with opportunities to make money. So there’s added that, there’s added, ‘I’m a senior now.’ There’s just a lot of added."

Jennings was selected third in Tuesday night's AU Pro Softball College Draft. Gasso said last month she sees Jennings going into coaching after her career.

Ahead of OU's regional, its leader is ready to put outside factors aside and enjoy her last few weeks as a Sooner. OU faces Cleveland State at 7 p.m. Friday at Love's Field on ESPNU.

“I feel confident. I’m ready. We’ve prepared a lot this week," Jennings said. "Just taking it all in. Not every day is guaranteed at this point, so I’m really going to just try to contribute where I can. If that’s not happening offensively, I’m going to do everything defensively to help these pitchers out. So any way I can, I’m not going to add any more pressure. I’m not going to (live another moment) of taking it for granted. Definitely just going to have fun, play free and contribute any way I can.”

More: What are OU softball's best- and worst-case scenarios for 2024 NCAA Tournament?

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU softball star Tiare Jennings playing freely ahead of NCAA regional