Kumar, RedHawks enjoyed hosting elite Sooners
By MIKE SMITH
The state of Oklahoma has an extensive history with softball in general. If anything, the connection has grown over the years. For example:
-- The National Softball Hall of Fame Museum is located in Oklahoma City.
-- So is Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, a 13,000-seat stadium that hosts the annual College World Series.
-- The Oklahoma Sooners softball team has won six national titles since 2000, with five coming since 2013.
Ranked No. 1 and riding a 29-game winning streak coming into last weekend, the Sooners might have seemed like an unlikely participant in the Miami Invitational. But there they were, led by legendary coach Patty Gasso and . . .
. . . supported by a strong contingent of loyal fans. In fact, 30 minutes after the game, many OU fans were still waiting to congratulate the winners as they passed through a makeshift human corridor leading the team bus.
Suffice it to say, Oklahoma is an elite program. Aside from their winning ways, there are other signs of the program's success.
-- The Sooners have a new stadium complex in the works, raising the seating capacity to 3,000 (with a design allowing for more). Expected to cost around $12 million, the new complex will include training, player amenity and fan improvements. They hope to have the stadium completed in time for OU's 2024 season.
-- Gasso, who was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012, has signed a contract extention that will bring her $1.625 million annually and keep her with OU through 2028.
-- Even radio announcer Chris Plank has become something of a celebrity, with Soooner softball fans from around the country, as well as places like New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Japan and Poland, listening to his game call.
Speaking to The Oklahoman newspaper, Plank recently declared, "The team has never been better, and the sport has never been better. ... The Sooners have been the turbo booster to the rocket ship that has driven the popularity of softball." (Click HERE to see article)
Miami head coach Kirin Kumar, meanwhile, shares Plank's opinion on Oklahoma's value to the sport. "You're trying to grow the game of softball, and the way to do that is to bring the best into different areas," she said.
"It's great for our team to be able to play some body like that on campus, on our own field. And then I feel it's great for the community. That's probably the largest crowd we've ever had, which is what Oklahoma softball is going to bring when you play them."
Kumar, who spent time coaching at Tulsa, has known Gasso for a number of years. They joined Louisville in putting together Miami's 2021 Invitational, with Oakland University eventually filling out the field. Although their duties kept them busy, Kumar said she and Gasso were able to chat for a while before and after their game.
After losing to Louisville, 12-4, Friday and pulling out a 1-0 win against Oakland early Saturday afternoon, Miami stayed with Oklahoma early in Saturday's finale. Neither team scored for the first two innings. The Sooners led 3-1 after stretched it to 6-1 against Miami starter Brianna Pratt before blowing the game open with a seven-run seventh.
"She (might have been) a little tired, but they're also a very good hitting team," Kumar said. It was "the third time around, (so) they kind of figured her out a little bit."
The victory was OU's 31's straight win (longest streak in the nation), raising the Sooners record to 39-1. That lone loss was to Baylor (4-3) back on Feb. 19, and Oklahoma will get a chance to avenge that when the two schools kick off a three-game series Friday in Waco, Texas.
Miami, meanwhile, returns to Mid-American Conference action Friday when it hosts Akron. The RedHawks (24-16 overall, 11-6 MAC) are currently in second place and need to finish among the top four teams to gain a spot in the MAC softball tourney. The winner of that would head to the NCAA tournament. After winning the 2022 MAC tourney, MU went 1-2 in NCAA play.
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.