Oklahoma softball: What fans need to know about OU’s Super Regional opponent

There is a lot going on at Marita Hynes Field this weekend with the No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma (54-1) hosting its fifth consecutive NCAA Super Regional in the final series of games to be played at what has been the home of Oklahoma softball for the past 25 seasons.

The Sooners’ opponent, No. 16 seed Clemson, comes to Norman with a 49-10 overall record and very confident after defeating Auburn last Sunday to win the Clemson Regional. It will be the Tigers second consecutive year having to travel to the state of Oklahoma for the super-regional round of 16. Last season they were swept by No. 7-seeded Oklahoma State.

The Lady Tigers hope for a better result this year, but they will have to do it against the most dominant team in college softball that just happens to be on the verge of setting a new all-time record for consecutive wins. Oklahoma has won 46 consecutive games and is just one away from tying the NCAA record of 47 consecutive wins, set by Arizona in 1996-97.

Oklahoma and Clemson have never played each other in softball, but the Tigers come in with one of the better teams the Sooners have faced all season and definitely the best pitching staff the high-powered OU lineup has seen this season.

The series shapes up as a pitchers’ battle given that Oklahoma and Clemson rank one and two nationally in staff ERA. The Sooners’ own a nation-best 0.88 staff ERA with Clemson right behind at 1.36. OU’s Nicole May ranks No. 2 nationally with a phenomenal 0.57 ERA. The Sooners also have the fourth-best individual ERA in starter Alex Storako’s 0.93.

Valerie Cagle of Clemson is a dual threat both at bat and in the pitching circle. She is 25-6 this season with a 1.20 ERA. In addition. She leads the team in batting average (.467), home runs (19) and runs batted in (57). Like Oklahoma, Clemson has a stable of solid pitchers. The Tigers have three other pitchers with ERAs under 2.00.

Clemson had a long winning streak of its own starting the 2023 season. They began the campaign going 39-1, including a 23-game winning streak between late February and early April.

Despite never have played each other, there is an OU-Clemson connection on the coaching staff. Tiger head coach John Rittman is married to former Oklahoma softball star Laurie Fausett Rittman, who played at Oklahoma from 1986-89 and earned First Team All-Big Eight honors in each of her first two seasons.

This will be OU’s 13th consecutive Super Regional appearance and 16th overall. The Sooners have been to the NCAA postseason every year (except the 2020 pandemic year) in Patty Gasso’s 29 seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma.

Game 1 in the Norman Regional is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start on Friday. Friday’s game will be televised on ESPN2. Game 2 will be at 1 p.m. Saturday. If a Sunday game is necessary, the time will be determined later.

This will be the final weekend of softball played at Marita Hynes Field. In 25 seasons the Sooners have compiled a home record of 479-60-1, a winning percentage of 889. OU is 113-2 at home over the past five seasons. Beginning next season, Sooner softball will move to the all-new $20 million-plus Love’s Field, which will double the seating capacity to around 3,000.

Statistical comparison (with national ranking in parentheses)

                                                           OU                        Clemson

Scoring                                            8.38 (1)                6.14 (15)

Batting average                          .376 (1)                  .315 (16)

Home runs                                    104 (1)                     77 (14)

On-base percentage                 .466 (1)                 .413 (10)

Slugging percentage                 .681 (1)                 .532 (12)

ERA                                                0.88 (1)                 1.32 (2)

Fielding percentage                  .989 (1)                 .980 (7)