Maybe, they are this good.

Sure, Abilene Christian and Missouri State aren't the caliber of teams that No. 4 Oklahoma will need to beat to secure a third straight Women's College World Series title, but the Sooners didn't have to make it look so easy.

They mercy-ruled both Saturday in five innings, beating Abilene Christian 8-0 before dispatching Missouri State in the Courtyard Marriott Tournament at Marita Hynes Field, despite sitting two-time All-American Shay Knighten so she could rest.

Making the most of their 25 outs, the Sooners (12-2) collected 20 hits and 10 walks to put up a whopping .607 on-base percentage during the doubleheader.

“Around this time is always our turning point,” third baseman Sydney Romero said. “We practiced a lot with it, and I think at bats were very disciplined today.”

Knighten, who has started 136 games over three seasons, spent most of the day shouting encouragement at OU's newest first baseman, Fale Aviu. Aviu, a junior, hadn't played the position since high school travel ball, but the 5-foor-4 outfielder didn't look out of place, making a few nice snags and going 3 for 6 with a double and three runs scored at the plate.

“Shay, we just wanted to give her the day off,” coach Patty Gasso said. “Fale is reliable. She can do a lot of things. In practice, she's all over the place. Watching Shay Knighten in the dugout, it was like her daughter was playing first. She's trying to talk her through the whole thing. Eventually, Shay backed off and let Fale do her thing, and she handled herself very well.”

It's a luxury Gasso can afford. There are so many options, she sometimes juggles the lineup just to get a new look.

One of her more successful experiments has been at the top, with last season's leader in batting average, Nicole Mendes in front of freshman Jocelyn Alo, who has popped seven home runs already. Alo homered in her first at bat Saturday after Mendes drew a leadoff walk.

“Nicole Mendes in the leadoff spot, it's imperative that she find a way to get herself on with Alo and such good hitters behind her,” Gasso said. “I like it, because everybody is starting feel it. This lineup is starting to slowly click together, and it's starting to make a little sense.”

Romero, in the cleanup spot, kept up her hot streak, going 4 for 4 to increase her average to .500. Second baseman Caleigh Clifton drilled a two-run homer over the left-field wall against Abilene Christian, and center fielder Nicole Pendley, who also homered against Abilene Christian, recorded three RBIs without a hit, thanks to two sacrifice flies and a walk against Missouri State.

It's almost too much to list, and again, on a day when Knighten, a .376 hitter, didn't participate.

“It's just a lot of trust,” Pendley said. “Shay trusts every single one of us, and we trust Shay. It just comes down to trusting each other. If you don't get it done, the person behind you will. There's just a lot of trust there.”

It's not just the hitting. OU's pitching was about as good as it gets. Paige Parker bumped her record to 7-1 after throwing three scoreless innings with one hit and three strikeouts against Missouri State. Parker Conrad and Paige Lowary combined for the other two scoreless innings.

Against Abilene Christian, Mariah Lopez got the start, allowing two hits with two strikeouts, before Lowary pitched the final two outs in relief.

Before the season, people around the program were giddy about OU's talent this season, but even they knew how tough it was to win three in a row. It hasn't been done since UCLA did it from 1988-90. Maybe Saturday wasn't the toughest of competition, but it's hard to imagine OU could have been any more dominant.

John McKelvey


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