What could be the last Bedlam softball may be the best Bedlam softball

What could be the last Bedlam softball may be the best Bedlam softball

We’ve known for over a year that this Bedlam softball series would be big as the last one before the Sooners leave for the SEC. But now, it’s got even bigger ramifications.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 30, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 30, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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We’ve known for roughly 15 months that Bedlam softball this year would be a big deal.

That’s because in early February 2023, the Big 12 finalized a deal with OU and Texas that would allow the two schools to pay their way out of the league’s media rights deal and leave the conference a year early. They would join the SEC after the 2023-24 academic year.

That meant Bedlam softball 2024 would be the rivalry’s last scheduled hurrah.

That’s big.

But now, this Bedlam series even bigger.

As college softball enters the final week of the regular season, all sorts of things are up in the air for the Sooners and the Cowgirls. The ramifications of the three games this weekend in Norman are significant for both teams. And because they’re two of the best squads in the country, what happens Friday, Saturday and Sunday will impact all of college softball.

Let’s look at everything that’s on the line:

The Big 12 championship: Over the past decade or so, OU has been so dominant that it usually comes into the regular-season-ending series against OSU having already wrapped up the conference crown.

The Sooners have won 11 Big 12 regular-season titles in a row.

But this year, OU is only a game ahead of Texas and two games ahead of OSU.

  1. OU, 21-3
  2. Texas, 20-4
  3. OSU, 19-5

The Sooners have the cleanest path to the title. Win two against the Cowgirls, and the Sooners will secure at least a tie for the title. Sweep the series, and OU would win another Big 12 title in its final year in the conference.

Of course, if OSU sweeps the series, it has a shot at the title. The Cowgirls would need help from Texas Tech, which hosts Texas this weekend in Lubbock. But if the Red Raiders win even one game against the Longhorns, it opens the door for the Cowgirls, who took two of three from the Longhorns earlier this year and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Big 12 Tournament seeding: How the teams finish in the regular-season Big 12 standings will determine the seeding for the conference tournament next week in Oklahoma City.

The top seed will have a much easier path to the title game. Only OU, Texas and OSU have winning records in conference play. That might change after this final weekend of the regular season, but still, the top seed wouldn’t be likely to face a serious challenge until the final.

Of course, if you’re looking to build a resume for NCAA Tournament seeding, a game against another top team in the Big 12 semifinals wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Speaking of that …

NCAA Tournament seeding: Other than Bedlam bragging rights, which I realize are no small thing, the impact this weekend’s series will have on NCAA Tournament seedings will be significant. Monumental. Postseason altering potentially.

Look at the most recent bracketology done last week, whether on Softball America or D1Softball.com, and you’ll see OU as the No. 2 overall seed and OSU as either No. 10 or No. 12. The sticking points with both teams are the same: a low strength of schedule and not a ton of wins against quad-one teams (ranked 1 to 25).

But play well in three games against their Bedlam rival and either team could elevate their status.

If OU wins at least two games against OSU, the Sooners would have a great argument to pass Texas, widely considered the team to beat for the No. 1 overall seed. Even though the Longhorns took two of three from the Sooners, Texas lost two of three against OSU. So if OU finishes the season by doing something Texas couldn’t do, winning two or three games against OSU, that would be significant.

And while there might not be a ton of difference between being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, being the top seed matches up that team with the No. 16 seed in the super regional. According to the bracketologists, that’d be Louisiana, a team that shocked OU earlier this season but also a team OU walloped 8-0 in a run-rule win.

The No. 15 seed the bracketologists believe would match up with the No. 2 seed: Florida State.

I suspect OU would prefer to take its chances against Louisiana instead of Florida State.

As for OSU right now, the Cowgirls will host a regional but then have to go on the road for super regionals, if you agree with the bracketologists. (And I do.) But if they win two or three games against the Sooners, a top-eight seed and a super-regional host would be assured.

Truth be told, if OSU wins one Bedlam game, it might be enough to vault the Cowgirls into one of those top eight seeds. That would give OSU three wins against the undisputed top two teams in the country, Texas and OU. No other team can say that.

The team with the most impressive collection of top-five wins currently is UCLA (Stanford thrice, Tennessee once), but the Cowgirls beat the Bruins. Run ruled them, actually.

So, OSU’s argument for a top-eight seed would be great with a win against OU.

Last Bedlam softball?

It remains to be seen if this weekend is the last go-around for the softball rivals.

Best Bedlam softball?

Sure seems like it. 

Player praise

I was going to go with OU pitcher Kierston Deal, who appears to have asserted control of the No. 2 spot in the Sooners’ pitching rotation, a much-needed development to take some pressure off ace Kelly Maxwell.

But then I thought about what OSU pitcher Kyra Aycock did in the second game of the Cowgirls’ series against Kansas, saving the day and likely OSU’s hopes of hosting a super regional after Ivy Rosenberry struggled.

So, let’s shine the light on both.

Deal spent much of the season as the Sooners’ third or fourth option behind Maxwell and Nicole May. Through the end of March, the sophomore lefty had thrown only 34⅓ innings.

But since the first of April, she’s thrown 28⅔ innings.

Her ERA during that stretch: 0.74.

It wasn’t too surprising, then, to see Deal get the Game 2 start against UCF this past weekend. After earning a complete-game 2-1 victory on Friday, she came in in relief in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game and earned another win.

Impressive.

The same could be said of Aycock. Coming into last weekend’s series against Kansas, the sophomore righty had thrown only 14 innings over the past month and had pitched just two innings against Big 12 foes. 

But when Ivy Rosenberry hit a rough patch in the third inning against the Jayhawks, Aycock was called upon.

Things started out rough. A wild pitch. A couple of walks. A couple of singles that scored runs. But after getting out of that third inning, Aycock scattered three hits and allowed no runs over the final four innings of the game. She got the win in a 6-5 nailbiter.

Had OSU dropped that game, the path to hosting a super regional would’ve been difficult. 

And the Cowgirls didn’t really have any other options in the circle; OSU ace Lexi Kilfoyl had already thrown a complete game earlier that day in the first game of the series against Kansas. The second game, originally scheduled for Saturday, was moved to Friday to be part of a doubleheader in an effort to avoid predicted bad weather on Saturday. 

Look out for …

The winner of this weekend’s Texas A&M-Florida series.

Both teams have a shot at the SEC title — Tennessee sits in the top spot with a weekend series against Kentucky remaining — and both the Aggies and the Gators have shown themselves to be dangerous.

This past weekend, Florida took two of three at Georgia, including a 10-7 come-from-behind win on Sunday. The go-ahead runs came courtesy of a three-run, seventh-inning home run from Jocelyn Erickson, the former Sooner who has a team-leading 64 runs batted in.

She’s part of a potent offense that also includes Skylar Wallace (.707 slugging percentage), Reagan Walsh (16 home runs) and Korbe Otis (.440 batting average).

Texas A&M doesn’t have the gaudy offensive numbers that Florida does, but the Aggies get on base and figure out ways to manufacture runs, then let ace Emiley Kennedy go to work. She’s thrown 157 ⅔ innings this season, second most in the SEC, and has a 1.50 earned run average, third in the league

The starpower isn’t high with the Aggies, but they are never really out of games. Of their nine losses, only two were by more than two runs. 

A team that keeps games close like that is dangerous.

Props go to …

Patty Gasso.

Last week, the Sooner coach notched her 1,500th career win, becoming only the third Division I softball coach to reach that milestone. Only Arizona’s Mike Candrea and Michigan’s Carol Hutchins won that many games.

Can Gasso catch them?

Hutchins retired two years ago as the Division-I leader with 1,684 wins, topping Candrea, who retired in 2021 with 1,674 wins. Excluding the COVID-shortened season, Gasso has won at least 56 games every year since 2016. Keep up that pace, and Gasso would need to coach at least three more seasons to catch Candrea or Hutchins.

Eight for OKC

Remember, the Eight for OKC ranking looks at the teams that have shown themselves most likely to make the Women’s College World Series. (Records through Sunday)

1. OU (45-4): Kierston Deal’s emergence isn’t the only good sign for the Sooners. OU left a combined 22 runners on base in its three-game sweep of UCF, an average of just over seven a game. That’s a big step in the right direction for a team that has sometimes struggled to get timely hits.

2. Texas (42-6): Reese Atwood’s hitting has been heralded throughout the season, and while her home runs dropped since early in the year, she is still clutch, driving in a ton of runs. She’s driven in 17 during the past three weekend series and leads the nation with 70 runs batted in.

3. Tennessee (37-9): As tough as the SEC is, Payton Gottshall and Karlyn Pickens just keep getting better in the circle. Their ERAs (Gottshall 1.03 and Pickens 1.05) rank fourth and fifth respectively in the nation. 

4. Duke (44-6): Nice show of resilience by the Blue Devils last week. After a couple tough losses at Virginia, Duke went 5-0 in its final games of the regular season. Grit is a necessary ingredient during the postseason.

5. Stanford (39-11): NiJaree Canady may have to pitch just about every game of the postseason for the Cardinal. Stanford just isn’t the same without her in the circle. But the hard-throwing righty has shown herself capable of carrying a heavy load. 

6. OSU (42-8): The Cowgirls are getting big-time offensive production from several players who’ve never reached a WCWS. Caroline Wang and Jilyen Poullard are transfers. Karli Godwin and Rosie Davis are freshmen. How will they respond in the postseason pressure cooker?

7. UCLA (30-10): After sweeping Stanford on the road, a home sweep of Arizona would’ve been quite the statement. Taking two of three against the Wildcats still isn’t terrible.

8. Texas A&M (39-9): The Aggies just keep winning. They’ve won eight in a row, the longest winning streak by far in the SEC. (The next best winning streak is two games.) What’s more, Texas A&M has won 11 of 13 games in April.

First out: Arkansas (34-13)

Others in consideration: Florida (39-12), Washington (31-10)

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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