Oklahoma softball: Does anyone not believe this is best team in college softball?

Oklahoma Sooners celebrate following the NCAA Norman Super Regional softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla., Saturday, May, 27, 2023.
Oklahoma Sooners celebrate following the NCAA Norman Super Regional softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla., Saturday, May, 27, 2023. /

You can call it Sooner Magic if you like, but the truth is this Oklahoma softball team plays with the mindset that the game is never over till it’s over. Even when you’re down to your last strike and trailing by multiple runs.

Oklahoma hasn’t trailed in many games this season, and if they have, it wasn’t for long. The 8-7 extra-inning win over No. 16 Clemson in the Norman Super Regional on Saturday was yet another example of how gritty this Sooner team is.

With two runners on base, two outs and senior catcher Kenzie Hansen down to her final strike with the Sooners trailing 7-4 it appeared the country’s No. 1-ranked team was about to go down for just the second time all season and that there was going to be a deciding third game on Sunday to determine which team would advance to the 2023 Women’s College World Series, which has been a second home to Oklahoma for the past six seasons.

You could probably count on both hands the number of fans among the overflow record crowd of over 2,100 who were on hand at Marita Hynes Field on Saturday — including Marita Hynes herself, who was in attendance — who truly believed the Sooners had a realistic chance of winning the game with two outs and Hansen down to her last strike.

But that’s what this Oklahoma team does. And they’ve done it before, under similar circumstances, this same season. With the Sooners trailing then No. 8-ranked Texas 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh and down to their final three outs, Rylie Boone led off the inning with a single, which flipped the order back to the top of the lineup. That brought OU home-run leader Jayda Coleman to the plate, and she promptly delivered with a long blast over the left-field fence, tying the game 3-3.

And, unfortunately for the Longhorns, the Sooners weren’t done. Five batters later — following a single, two walks, a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice — one-in-the-same Kinzie Hansen drilled a single to left with the bases loaded and one out, scoring Avery Hodge from third with the winning run and ripping the heart out of the upset-minded Longhorns.

Only twice this season have the Sooners found themselves behind by as many as three runs. One was on Saturday against Clemson. The other occasion was much earlier in the season, on Feb. 19 against Baylor. Oklahoma trailed Baylor 4-1 after three innings. The Sooners were able to get two of those runs back in the sixth, but that was as close as they would get and they ended up suffering a 4-3 loss, their only stumble in 57 games this season.

Oklahoma is headed to the Women’s College World Series for the seventh consecutive season and the 16th time in program history. The Sooners opening round opponent on Thursday is No. 9 national seed Stanford (45-13).

The eight-team WCWS field features six of the top eight overall national seeds, with Oklahoma heading the list at No. 1 and having already played six of the other seven teams that will be present in Oklahoma City. The Sooners were victorious against all six and are 23-0 this season against teams ranked in the top 25.

This year is the fifth time in program history and the fourth straight season that OU has been the No. 1 overall seed. The Sooners also enter the 2023 WCWS leading NCAA Division I softball in team batting average, pitching staff ERA and fielding percentage. No team has ever finished the season leading the nation in all three categories in the same season. Oklahoma is about to be the first.

The Sooners, who are on an NCAA record 48-game winning streak, are the heavy favorites to repeat as national champions for a third consecutive season. If they are able to do so, they will become just the second team in history to accomplish that feat (UCLA did it from 1988-90).

Unless someone is able to beat OU twice in the WCWS, the Sooners will also finish with another NCAA record: the highest winning percentage in a single season, which is presently held by the 1992 UCLA Bruins (54-2, .964). With a record of 56-1, Oklahoma currently stands at .982.

One sportswriter wrote this week that the only WCWS team capable of handing Oklahoma the two losses necessary to eliminate the Sooners and prevent them from capturing a third straight national title is OU itself.

This Oklahoma softball team — undeniably the best in the nation this season and the greatest ever — is on a mission, and the destination is clearly in sight.