Clash of the titans
Conference rivals get ready to face off in weekend series
In 14 seasons coaching Oklahoma’s softball team, Patty Gasso knows there’s one weekend that supersedes the rest of the regular season. With Big 12 bragging rights on the line, the rivalry series between the No. 1 Sooners and No. 6 Texas only intensifies.
“This goes back a long way before I’ve been around here,” Gasso said. “A long, long time ago.”
The two softball powers collide in a three-game series at Austin beginning Friday afternoon as the only unbeaten teams in Big 12 play.
It’s a matchup the Longhorns have been eagerly waiting for all week.
“It is amazing to start the conference 8-0, but we have a big challenge ahead of us that we cannot wait to get to,” Texas junior shortstop Taylor Thom said.
After defeating Iowa State last Sunday to extend its winning streak to nine games, Texas (38-4) improved to 8-0 in league play. The Longhorns come into the series winners of 14 consecutive home games and are bringing a rowdy crowd hoping that streak improves to 17.
“In our sport, we are not used to volatile crowds or even huge crowds, where the noise decibel is at another level,” Gasso said. “We are going into a very hostile environment. Our team hasn’t been in that situation in awhile. It will be good for us to handle that kind of adversity.”
The Sooners (37-2, 6-0) have won 10 consecutive since a home loss to Louisville on March 23.
Oklahoma’s Wednesday game against Oklahoma State was postponed, leaving both teams idle since last Sunday.
“I am glad we have Oklahoma at the end of the week; it will give the group something to be motivated about,” Texas coach Connie Clark said after last weekend’s series sweep of Iowa State. “Also this group is winning, which can lead to autopilot a little bit.
“There is no way that they can just go through the motions this week. They will be hungry and fired up with some great intensity. They will provide that intensity for us.”
Since a March 17 loss at No. 3 Florida, fifth-ranked Tennessee has been unbeatable.
The Lady Vols’ 9-0 win against Appalachian State on Tuesday was their 16th in a row, a streak they’ll look to continue in this weekend’s SEC series at Ole Miss.
Tennessee players aren’t so much focused on the win streak as they are just winning against whatever team shows up on the schedule.
“We’re just out there playing. We didn’t realize we had a streak going,” senior third baseman Raven Chavanne said. “You play your best when you are just out there playing and not playing to keep a win streak alive.”
During the 16-game winning streak, the Lady Vols have been dominant. Tennessee has outscored opponents 135-31 over the month-long stretch, which includes five shutouts.
“The key to our defense right now is just experience,” Chavanne said. “Our whole infield is returning and I think that is what sets us apart.”
Four weekend series pit top-25 programs against each other, including the Oklahoma/Texas three-game series in Austin.
Eleventh-ranked LSU leads the SEC’s Western Division by one game against Alabama and looks to stay in control when the Tigers host No. 12 Missouri for a three-game series starting on Friday night.
No. 16 Stanford travels to No. 14 Washington for a Pac-12 series starting on Friday night. Also in Pac-12 play is a three-game series beginning Thursday with No. 22 Arizona hosting No. 18 UCLA.