NORMAN — Red panels — located on the outfield wall of Oklahoma’s Marita Hynes Field — display the years that the Sooners softball program advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
Before fall practices on crisp, cool days or during games in the spring under the blazing sun, OU players make a point of tapping the red protective panel, reminding them where the year “2019” would be added to the list.
Shortly after defeating Northwestern 8-0 Saturday afternoon to claim a berth in this year’s WCWS, the Sooners removed a blank panel off the right-field wall and carried it above their heads to home plate, where it was ceremoniously dropped.
When asked why they did that, senior Sydney Romero couldn’t immediately come up with an answer before saying, “It’s just tradition,” and then bursting into laughter.
To not know the origin isn’t the worst thing. OU seems so used to making the WCWS — eight of the past nine seasons — that some things just seem normal.
“It was Keilani Ricketts and that group that went out there and lifted it off and Keilani was holding it, pretty much on her own because nobody else could reach that high up,” OU coach Patti Gasso explained. “And they all just kind of dropped it at home plate. That was back in, I think, 2012. And it just has taken (off). Every day before practice, they touch that panel before we start. So, in a sense of saying, ‘This is where we want our spot to be.’ ”
The remaining question now is if the “2019” will be in gold, which is reserved for national championship teams like in 2000, 2013, 2016 and 2017.
The Sooners (54-3) are headed to their home-away-from-home at the WCWS after sweeping the Wildcats in the best-of-3 NCAA Super Regional series.
OU will face No. 8 seed Alabama on Thursday at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, located just 30 minutes north of campus. Game time has not been announced.
Following a muggy afternoon that featured five OU home runs and yet another solid pitching performance, the biggest celebrations came in the stands.
“There are times I ask, ‘Why aren’t we celebrating harder? Why aren’t we dogpiling?’ ” Gasso said. “It’s this commitment to excellence. The expectation is they should be one of the top eight teams in the country. I kind of like seeing celebrations, but I love that they have that expectation and they strive for it.”
The Sooners’ power surge came one day after they managed just three hits in a 3-0 victory Friday against Northwestern. OU put up 12 hits Saturday. Out of the 15 hits this weekend, 10 were for extra bases.
The five home runs broke an NCAA single-season record. The Sooners have hit 108 homers, which tops their own record of 107 set in 2015.
Romero, in her last home game at OU, set a record of her own, lacing a double off the wall in her final at-bat to claim the school career record for doubles with 57.
She smiled and admitted that she knew about the record because of tweets sent her way on Friday.
“For her to be in the record books, it’s a big deal here,” Gasso said. “Some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game are in this program … she put her name in there. Records are made to be broken, but I don’t know if I’ll be alive when that record breaks again. I’m really proud of her and the rest of this group.”
The Sooners used a four-run third inning to seize control.
Romero hit a solo homer out of the stadium to give the Sooners a 2-0 lead. Three batters later, Jocelyn Alo followed suit with a two-run shot over the left-field wall to make it 5-0.
It was more than enough cushion for OU starter Mariah Lopez (18-1), who only allowed two hits and struck out five in 4⅔ innings.
“I just wanted to come out there and I’ve been saying it this entire year that I wanted to be efficient,” Lopez said. “By doing that and keeping my team in the game and letting the offense score runs, I wasn’t really thinking of if I needed to do well. I just needed to do what I normally do and knew that my team would have my back.” Lopez, in fact, started her day with a one-run lead.
OU was designated as the visiting team for Game 2. Romero led off with a single and scored on Falepolima Aviu’s double to make it 1-0.
Grace Green led off the fifth inning with a home run to center field to make it 5-0.
Clifton — in her last home at-bat — hit a towering foul ball down the left-field line. Two pitches later, she went opposite field with a solo home run into the right-field stands.
Northwestern (47-13) was held scoreless over the weekend. Counting two regular-season games (7-0 and 8-0 losses) against the Sooners, the Wildcats didn’t score a run against OU’s pitching staff.
Shannon Saile threw the final 2.1 of the game for the Sooners on Saturday.
OU 8, NORTHWESTERN 0
OU 104 011 1 — 8 12 1
NU 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Lopez, Saile (5) and Elam; Williams, Wilkey (3) and Rudd. W: Lopez (18-1). L: Williams (31-8). HR: OU, Romero (19), Clifton (17), Alo (15), Green (16), Elam (5).