NORMAN, Okla. — DJ Kool’s 1996 hip-hop single “Let Me Clear My Throat” boomed from the Marita Hynes Field sound system on a warm, cloudy Sunday.
Oklahoma’s softball team gathered outside its dugout in the middle of the second frame against Baylor and performed a myriad of modern dance moves to the classic song.
The impromptu party formed by the No. 2-ranked Sooners, who went on to beat the Bears 16-0, billowed through the stadium. It even started a dance-off between the OU women on the field and their parents seated in the upper deck.
“It's just fun coming out here and being with each other all the time,” senior infielder Shay Knighten said. “Yes, we are with each other every single day, but we always find something new to laugh and have fun about. So I think it's just really cool and when we can get our crowd involved, it's just that much better because we can all do it together.”
Knighten is cognizant of how important the team’s self-made energy will be in the coming weeks as OU plays 12 of its final 13 regular-season games away from Norman.
Sooner coach Patty Gasso isn't concerned considering her team's maturity.
“They enjoy the underdog role,” Gasso said. “They enjoy the atmosphere of ‘let's beat the Sooners.’ They love that. They thrive on that. So although this is a very tough season of travel, this is a team that can handle it.”
Few would likely consider a team ranked No. 2 in the nation with a 35-2 record an underdog. Gasso was referring to the target on her team's back with each team it faces.
OU’s practices in the coming weeks will include loud music and crowd noises funneled into the team’s softball complex to simulate the atmospheres the Sooners will encounter.
There isn’t much concern with Gasso, though, to whether her team will succumb to the pressures, especially with the corner her team's energy turned last month.
“I think we had to get through February,” Gasso said. “At times, Februarys are a little bit rough for us, but I think it is for every team as they get their season started. We started to realize the pitching staff was going to be really good. Everything started to fall into place by mid-March and it's been really moving forward very well.”
OU enters its road series at Kansas this weekend with its three primary pitchers — Mariah Lopez, Giselle Juarez and Shannon Saile — ranked top 20 nationally in strikeouts per seven innings pitched. OU’s pitching staff also ranks No. 2 nationally with an ERA of 1.31.
Senior Syndey Romero has been essential to the Sooners’ powerful offense, which held a batting average of .393, an on-base percentage of .477 and a slugging percentage of .732 in March.
Individually, Romero has the fourth-most total bases (112) in the country and ranks No. 11 and No. 13 in slugging percentage (.911) and home runs (14), respectively.
The Sooners are regularly serving up performances that have allowed Gasso to sit back and let her team play with less verbal instruction.
It’s been easier for Gasso to say less during games, though, with an upperclassmen group that has become close with each other and cultivated a fun environment.
“For the most part I've known most of all these girls for a long time before we even came to school here,” Lopez said, “so just that sisterhood of coming through the program and everything like that, it's just a very comfortable feeling and we're just basically all like sisters, so it is like a party most of the time.”
OU’s younger players took some time to adapt to the upperclassmen's style. In the early stages of the season, Gasso said her group was much quieter than years past.
That isn’t much of a problem anymore.
“I think they were more trying to observe what was going on and just trying to get used to playing at this level,” Knighten said. “But once they got used to it, they're loud, they're open like the rest of us.
“They act like veterans now and I think it's because they're more relaxed and they realize we're out here just trying to have fun and play softball. Softball is not who we are, it's just what we do. So why not have fun doing it?”
• Game: OU (35-2, 6- Big 12) at Kansas (14-18, 2-4 Big 12)
• Time: 5 p.m.
• Place: Lawrence, Kan.
• Radio: KREF 1400 AM | 99.3 FM
• TV: None
• Online: ESPN+
• Saturday: at Kansas (2 p.m.)
• Sunday: at Kansas (12 p.m. on ESPN+)
Buettner writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.