Oklahoma softball: Sooners begin quest for 7th straight Big 12 crown

BEIJING - AUGUST 21: Megu Hirose
BEIJING - AUGUST 21: Megu Hirose /

With six consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships in tow, the 2018 edition of Oklahoma softball was the overwhelming favorite to add an unprecedented seventh conference crown this season.

That was the consensus of the preseason poll of Big 12 coaches, with the Sooners receiving all but one of the first-place votes. The journey to fulfill that prediction begins on Friday with Oklahoma hosting Texas Tech for a three-game weekend series at Marita Hynes Field.

The Sooners, two-time defending national champions, are 24-2 this season and ranked No, 5 in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.

Oklahoma enters its Big 12 opener against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech riding a 16-game winning streak. The Sooners’ last loss came on Feb. 24 to then-No. 13 Arizona in the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs, California. OU also is a perfect 10-0 at home this season and has won 14 consecutive games at Marita Hynes Field.

Texas Tech comes to Norman sporting a 20-10 record, and is 5-2 in true road games this season. OU also has a current streak going against the Red Raiders. The Sooners have not lost to the Red Raiders in 17 consecutive games, the Sooners’ fourth longest winning streak against a Division I opponent. The last time Texas Tech prevailed against an Oklahoma softball team was in April 2012, when the Red Raiders pulled out a 5-4 victory.

Oklahoma has been dominant in the overall series with Texas Tech, owning a 53-7 record, and is 22-4 in games played in Norman.

The Sooners return virtually the entire team from last year’s Women’s College World Series championship team, including Big 12 Player of the Year Shay Knighton, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker and Coach of the Year Patty Gasso.

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Even with all the offensive firepower Oklahoma has back this season, it is a newcomer, freshman Jocelyn Alo, who leads the team, as well as the Big 12, in slugging percentage (1.000) and home runs (12). Her dozen home runs, heading into conference play, ranks fourth nationally. Alo has a current 17-game streak of reaching base safely and leads the Sooners in on-base percentage (.567).

Not only can OU pound you at the plate, they also are superlative at shutting down opposing hitters with a pitching staff that may be the best in the country this season. The Sooner pitching staff, headed by ace right-hander Parker, who is 13-1 already this season, has given up just 18 runs total in 26 games. That number drops to seven in games played at home.

The OU pitching staff has tossed six shutouts in 10 home games in 2018 and 14 overall this season.

If Oklahoma is able to sweep the weekend series with Texas Tech, it would extend the Sooners’ consecutive-game win streak to 19 this season and become the sixth longest in program history.

After the Big 12-opening series with the Red Raiders, who are projected to finish last in the conference in 2018, the Sooners will test the other end of the Big 12 preseason picks, traveling to Waco, Texas, next weekend for a series against the Baylor Bears, the choice of the league coaches to finish behind Oklahoma. The Bears are 18-4 this season and ranked 13th nationally.