Reigning champs Oklahoma softball takes on Kansas in Big 12 quarterfinals


The No. 2 seeded Oklahoma softball team enters the Big 12 Championship on Thursday in the underdog role for the first time in multiple years.

The Sooners (46-6, 22-5) have won eight Big 12 Tournament championships and four of the last five. No. 7 will be Oklahoma's opponent in the quarterfinal round at Devon Park in Oklahoma City. The Jayhawks (11-16, 28-24-1) advanced by defeating Houston 6-5 on Wednesday.

OU swept the series at Kansas this season by scores of 6-1, 17-0 and 7-3, outhitting the Jayhawks 35 to 8 in the process.

Although the Sooners are heavy favorite to get by Kansas, they must be careful not to get caught looking ahead. What the senior-laden OU team is really focusing on in this tournament is the opportunity to avenge regular-season series losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. Kansas is the first hurdle and order of business in that objective.

Because the Sooners were not able to capture what would have been their 12 consecutive Big 12 regular-season title, they would like nothing more than to get payback for the earlier losses to their to chief conference rivals and take home the tournament championship trophy one last time -- and ninth overall -- in their final Big 12 season.

It will be interesting to see how head coach Patty Gasso lines up her pitching rotation for the tournament. The sterling performance by graduate transfer Karlie Keeney in Sunday's series final with Oklahoma State gives the Sooners a fourth option in the starting rotation, which all season has featured Kelly Maxwell (16-2), Nicole May (12-2) and Kierston Deal (11-1).

Everyone in the OU rotation except Keeney struggled against Oklahoma State. The Sooners gave up a highly uncharacteristic seven home runs to the Cowgirls in the series last weekend. Emotions may have gotten the best of Maxwell, having to go against her former team of the past four seasons. So it will be interesting to see if Gasso starts Maxwell against Kansas or holds her to go against OSU on Friday, assuming, course, the Sooners get by the Jayhawks.

Despite Oklahoma's recent struggles offensively, the Sooner lineup is still the most dangerous top to bottom in the Big 12, if not the country. OU leads the NCAA Division I softball in on-base percentage and is in the top-three nationally in batting average (.364), slugging percentage (.656), runs per game (8.12), home runs (98) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.130).

The Sooners are hoping that the 8-2 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday was a signal that they have started to turn things back around. We will shortly see if that was indeed the case.