MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

May 17, 2013

Sights set high, OU ready for regional

NORMAN — Marist College has about 5,000 students enrolled. The University of Oklahoma has six times that number. The Sooners are in their 20th NCAA tournament and have one of the most dominant softball teams ever assembled, while the Red Foxes are making just their second tournament appearance. The Sooners are also the tournament’s top overall seed after putting together a 47-4 regular season, while Marist is 200th in the college softball RPI.

None of which will matter when the two teams square off at 7:30 p.m. today at Marita Hynes Field in the opening round of the postseason.

“Being No. 1 overall, it puts you in a pretty good position and gives you home-field advantage, but ultimately the work is still right in front of us,” coach Patty Gasso said. “You’ve still got to get it done on your field.”

Getting it done will require a trio of victories this weekend to advance the Sooners to the Super Regional for the second year in a row, where they would host a three-game series with a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line.

The first test is Marist. The Red Foxes (30-24) come to Norman from Poughkeepsie, New York, and are in the tournament after winning the Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament last weekend. They are led by senior pitcher Emily Osterhaus, who led Marist through the MAAC tournament and allowed just one run in the championship game.

The Red Foxes also have Nicole Cheek, the MAAC Rookie of the Year, to headline their lineup. She led the conference in several categories, including RBIs with 49 and home runs with 14.

If the Sooners can get past Marist, they’ll face the winner of Fordham and No. 24 Arkansas, which meet at 5 p.m. today. If OU wins that game they’ll play again at 1 p.m. Sunday for a chance to win the regional. Because of the double-elimination format, the Sooners could end up playing a second game on both Saturday and Sunday if they drop a contest.

The Sooners are the favorites to win the national title, not just the Norman regional. But that doesn’t mean they’re overlooking anyone along the way.

“We don’t think about that,” Gasso said. “When you look ahead, that’s when you get burned. This team is mature enough and experienced enough to handle all that.”

OU, last year’s national runner-up, has been preparing for this tournament ever since Keilani Ricketts struck out looking a year ago in the deciding third game of the World Series championship set against Alabama.

It’s an experience that has motivated the Sooners all season, and one Ricketts is looking to change this time around. But first OU must make it back to Oklahoma City for the World Series, and Ricketts is committed to taking it one step at a time to make it back.

“The ultimate goal is to win a national championship,” Ricketts said. “But we’re not trying to look ahead of anyone because that’s not how we got there last year.”

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