Why Oklahoma softball might be even scarier in 2022
OU just won the program's fifth national championship. So, how can Patty Gasso's next squad possibly be better? It starts in the circle.
NORMAN, Okla. — Patty Gasso’s never afraid to disclose intel from her practices.
At five national championship rings and counting, it’s hard to question her commitment to candor.
A year ago, Gasso shared a promising — and potentially alarming — tidbit from her team’s fall practices ahead of the 2021 season.
Her hitters dominated her pitchers.
That group, of course, included the likes of Jocelyn Alo and Tiare Jennings, the Sooner duo that ranked first and second, respectively, in home runs recorded last season among all Division I players.
Both Alo and Jennings are still around in Norman, as is essentially the rest of OU’s 2021 national title-winning squad. Practices this last fall weren’t nearly as generous, however, to OU’s high-powered offense, which tormented opponents for an NCAA-leading .405 batting average, 2.7 home runs per game and 10.6 runs per game.
“It is a complete turnaround,” said Gasso, who begins Year 28 as the Sooners’ head coach at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday.
“Last fall, this offense was demoralizing — literally demoralizing — our pitching staff. This year, our pitchers are handling our hitters.”
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OU’s bats made the Sooners a terrifying team a year ago. No margin was too big for Oklahoma to overcome with players of the caliber of Alo, Jennings and Kinzie Hansenin the lineup.
But a dominant pitching staff to pair with one of the best shows in softball?
“In my mind,” Gasso said, “they're facing some of the best pitchers in the country right now every day.
“The matchups are something that I think we should charge attendance for,” she continued with a laugh, “because I think people would come out to want to watch Jordy Bahl face Jocelyn Alo and Jordy Bahl face Tiare. And Hope facing some of these big hitters. As well as Nicole May. There are some offensive and pitching battles going on here.”
Jordy Bahl, if you aren't familiar, is the 5-foot-8 OU freshman from Papillion, Nebraska, that was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year as a high school senior.
Bahl was the country's consensus top prospect in the 2021 recruiting class. Hard to argue with every major program after her services. She helped her travel-ball squad, Nebraska Gold, win a Premier Girls Fastpich National Championship this past year.
Oh, and she won’t be limited to the circle.
“She's also going to swing for us,” Gasso said. “She is very strong. I've not had a freshman come in so strong and fit as Jordy. She leads the team in a lot of categories — in running, sprinting, lifting. Quite an incredible athlete.”
The player Gasso referenced as “Hope” is Hope Trautwein, who transferred to Oklahoma from North Texas over the offseason.
You might remember her as the Mean Green pitcher with the 21-strikeout perfect game last season.
The Pflugerville, Texas, native earned Conference USA's Pitcher of the Year award in 2021. She finished her career in Denton as North Texas' career leader in ERA (2.05), wins (61) and opponent batting average (.197).
The Sooners had to fight off Texas, however, to land Trautwein out of the transfer portal.
“Austin (Texas) is her home,” Gasso said. “So, it was a tough battle. But I think she realized that there might be a little more opportunity for her at Oklahoma.”
Finally, there’s Nicole May, who learned under Giselle Jaurez and Shannon Saile last season. The sophomore went 15-2 and registered a 2.37 ERA over 29 appearances and 13 starts.
The trio should provide OU with pitching depth it’s missed the past two seasons. Health issues have played a role in the Sooners’ inconsistency in the circle. But the Sooners’ fall practices, which now rarely include high-scoring scrimmages because of the team’s newfound balance, have provided Gasso’s staff with plenty of promise for a 2022 season that will take OU through California twice, Texas and Hawaii over the next month.
“It's quite different,” Gasso said of the Sooners’ intrasquad battles. “But it's a good feeling for us as coaches because we know we've got a very good pitching staff and we also know that we have very good hitters. They don't feel that maybe right now. We know that it's still there. It hasn't gone anywhere.”
The game will be available on ESPN+.
Hansen ranked fifth nationally in home runs. She had 24 home runs to Alo's 34 and Jennings' 27.