NORMAN — Patty Gasso wanted to try something different against Wichita State.
In the regional championship game, Oklahoma’s softball coach put Olivia Rains in the circle to make her first start of the season. The sophomore had only thrown 17 1/3 innings in the regular season and hadn’t made a start in about 14 months.
Gasso wanted to give Rains the experience of pitching against a hard-hitting team in a regional title game early, giving her offense more time to recover from a deficit, should things go wrong.
Rains struggled early and gave up three quick runs before being replaced by Alanna Thiede, who also gave up a run. It was freshman Nicole May who finally entered the game to settle things in what turned out to be a crushing 24-7 Sooner victory.
With it, OU claimed the NCAA’s Norman Regional and will host Washington in a best two-of-three super regional, beginning Friday.
OU (48-2) was in a four-run hole to Wichita State (41-13-1), but a four-run deficit ended up being light work for this Sooner offense.
“This is about a race,” Gasso said, recapping her message to the team. “It’s a race where they took the lead, but the finish line is still way, way out there … We’ve got time to catch them in this race, and then we need to think more about lapping them as we go along.”
The Sooners responded with a breakout eight-run inning.
After falling behind, OU’s lineup saw it as an opportunity to make another statement.
“Yes, you can do that to us, but we’re going to punch back even harder,” shortstop Grace Lyons said. “... We kept looking at the scoreboard. You see them score a few. We double it. We triple it.”
After the eight-run second inning, the Sooners put up three runs each in the third and fourth innings, but went quiet in the fifth and the sixth.
In the top of the seventh inning, OU exploded yet again. The Sooners added another 10 runs to the scoreboard.
Taylon Snow and Lynnsie Elam each blasted a home run, Lyons homered for the second time in the game, and Rylie Boone sent a grand slam out of the park on the first pitch she saw.
The Sooners broke several NCAA records in their dominating performance: most runs scored in a postseason win (24), most combined runs scored across a regional (50), and tied for the most home runs in a regional (6).
“It’s super important to start that now,” Lyons said. “As we get closer to the end goal, we want to make sure that we have this rhythm and have the power that we’ve had all year.”
With her hitters backing her up, May settled in and threw the rest of the game. She gave up three runs off two home runs to Wichita State, who Gasso has referred to as the best hitting team OU has faced this season.
May pitched three straight 1-2-3 innings to end the game and retired the last 10 Shockers she faced.
“For us, when it’s postseason, there’s zero mercy,” Lyons said. “There’s zero giving anyone any extra chances, giving anyone anything easy."