NORMAN — Oklahoma made the first inning feel like an eternity — much to the delight of OU fans and agonizing for the Cal faithful — on a steamy Sunday afternoon.
The Sooners wasted no time flexing their muscle in a regional championship game, with four home runs in the opening frame to coast to a 16-3 win over the Pac-12 school.
Oklahoma (54-1) would finish with six home runs — Tiare Jennings and Alyssa Brito hit two each, while Jocelyn Erickson and Cydney Sanders joined the merry-go-round — to equal an NCAA Tournament record.
“The team came in ready. We knew that this is a day that a lot of teams’ seasons end today and we just decided it wouldn’t be ours today,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “So they came out and punched really quickly and just kind of kept it going throughout the entire game, all parts of the game were working well for us.”
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The top-seeded Sooners will host next weekend’s Super Regional against No. 16 Clemson.
OU advances to a Super Regional for the 13th consecutive season.
The OU offense belted 19 hits (including 11 extra-base hits) against four Cal pitchers. The hit production is one off a season high.
The Sooners now have 108 doubles and 104 home runs this season. It’s been race between hitting over the fence and finding gaps in the outfield for the prolific offense.
The home runs drew multiple curtain calls from the OU dugout.
What does Gasso think about the power surge?
“It’s all throughout the lineup and whoever I bring off the bench. I’m so very, very pleased with the way we swung the bat today,” Gasso said.
The Sooners shut out Hofstra and Missouri 11-0 in their first two regional games. They had no plans stopping at 11 against the Bears.
Cal (35-21-1) started with a strikeout against OU leadoff hitter Jayda Coleman, giving moments of confidence. But the next five batters chased Bears starter Haylei Archer.
Jennings hit a solo shot and, after Haley Lee’s double, Brito hit a no-doubter over the wall.
After a Kinzie Hansen single, Sanders smacked a homer to force a pitching change.
Erickson greeted Annabel Teperson with a solo shot to give OU a 6-0 lead in the first inning.
“The energy was super high, kind of a ‘pass the bat’ mentality,” Brito said. “Each person came up and hit the ball hard. So it was a great start. It kind of started the momentum for the rest of the game. Really high energy in the first inning.”
Added Tiare Jennings: “It felt like a party, honestly. It was super fun.”
An offense has only reached the six HR mark in a single NCAA Tournament game. Tennessee and Georgia did it in 2014. Florida State accomplished the feat in 2019.
OU has now done it in three consecutive seasons.
With such a big start, how does Gasso keep her team engaged?
“I think I just try to remind them to not get complacent. You could just get bored and kind of sit on a score. To make every opportunity you can to help make you better. To help make this team better. Don’t waste opportunities because we’re ahead. Just keep going. And they did a good job of that,” the OU coach said.
No. 2 seed UCLA was eliminated on Saturday night. Does Gasso share those outcomes with her team to put them on upset alert?
“I don’t talk about anybody around the country because I don’t know what they’re doing. What I always talk about, and I just got done talking to our team about, is staying engaged, staying focused, whether you’re in the game or not. Whenever you’re called upon, you’re ready. If we want to give you a break and bring someone in, that you high-five each other and you root for that person,” Gasso said.
“One thing about this team that I feel really good about is we just don’t have the selfishness that could easily be had. I think some people are a little disappointed. That’s just athletics. You can be disappointed that you’re not getting the call.
“But very likely, you will be getting it sometime during the game and you need to be ready. If I look in the dugout and I see someone not ready, I won’t bring them in. But I have not looked into the dugout this season and not felt somebody’s ready to come in. That’s the beauty of this team. It’s pretty much like ‘pick me, pick me, pick me.’ That’s all I care about is what our team is doing and what we’re doing in the dugout and what we’re doing after the game and our attitudes towards each other.”
Alex Storako (18-0) picked up the win. She allowed five hits and three earned runs before turning the ball over to Nicole May with two outs in the third inning.
The three earned runs were the only allowed by the OU pitching staff.
No team has scored five runs against OU this season. Only NCAA Tournament teams Baylor and Florida State reached four runs, with the Bears handing Oklahoma a 4-3 loss and Florida State losing 5-4.
Jennings was 4-for-4 and tied an NCAA Tournament record for most hits in a game.
OKLAHOMA 16, CAL 3
Storako, May (3), Deal (5) and Hansen, Nugent (5). Archer, Teperson (1), McDade (3), Halajian (4) and Zoback.2B: Coleman (14), Jennings (15), Lee (10), Hodge (1), Erickson (11), Anzaldo (13). HR: Jennings 2 (14), Brito 2 (15), Sanders (7), Erickson (7). W: Storako (18-). L: Archer (10-10).