Top Five Storylines for Opening Weekend of Big 12 Softball

Heartland College Sports – An Independent Big 12 Today Blog

The nonconference slate is over, and Big 12 play is set to begin as the 2024 softball schedule rolls over to March.

The first weekend of Big 12 action features several important matchups and plenty of storylines to follow, so let’s dive right in.

Here are the five storylines to follow heading into the first weekend of conference play in the 2024 Big 12 softball season.

 

The Oklahoma Rebound

One of the biggest storylines of the week is Oklahoma’s NCAA-record 71-game winning streak coming to an end on Sunday after dropping a game to Louisiana at home. The Sooners’ record streak was impressive, but it also seemed to weigh on the team sometimes. When OU won the national title last season, there was more a sense of relief that their run was over and that they could breathe, rather than pure elation that they’d just made history.

Now, Patty Gasso and the Sooners can focus on playing softball again, and when a team full of All-American talents is playing free, they’re next to unstoppable. Plus, Oklahoma now finds itself ranked second behind arch-rival Texas. The Sooners will host Iowa State to open up Big 12 play this weekend, with the Cyclones losing six of their last eight games. Does OU come out and dominate from the start, or will they look lethargic as they have at times already this year?

Who’s a Real Contender: Texas Tech or BYU?

Texas Tech (17-4) will head to Provo to take on BYU (14-4) in perhaps the most underrated series in the country this weekend. While neither of these teams is a bonafide national title contender at this point in the year, they’ve both had a fair share of success ahead of conference play.

 

Texas Tech is still trying to find establish its identity in Craig Snider’s second season, but has led them to a 48-26 mark so far. Tech has been all offense so far, but will need to find its rhythm in the circle to survive the Big 12 race. Meanwhile, BYU is about to enter uncharted territory under Gordon Eakin, who is in his 22nd season with the Cougars. With Eakin at the helm, BYU won 11 straight conference championships over four leagues. However, none of those leagues looks like the one they’ll face this season.

Battle in Stillwater for Top Tier Status

No. 7 Oklahoma State (17-2) is set to host No. 14 Baylor (11-3) in a battle of teams trying to keep pace with the top two teams in the country. The Cowgirls and Bears have both found themselves in a good rhythm with each team riding an 11-game winning streak into the midweek. All eyes will be on Stillwater for one of the best series of the week, and the winner will have an early leg up on the field of contenders in what should be a tight race.

Baylor is still adjusting to life without McKenzie Wilson, who was suspended following an arrest for theft, so drawing the Pokes this early on is a tough break. However, grit and toughness is one of the things that Glenn Moore’s team is known for, so they should be well-equipped to figure things out. The pitching matchups in this series should be epic, with Oklahoma State having Lexi Kilfoyl and Ivy Rosenberry at their disposal and Baylor looking to RyLee Crandall and Aliyah Binford.

 

Potential Fireworks in Houston

Texas has dethroned rival Oklahoma as the top-ranked team in the nation in this week’s Top 25 poll and will take that honor on the road to Houston, where they’ll face an upstart Cougars team that has fought their way to 15-5 to start the year. UH has shown bursts of offensive firepower already in 2024, and will need all the firepower it can get to keep pace with the Longhorns.

UT comes into this weekend ranking second nationally in batting average (.408), third in ERA (.72), third in scoring (8.16), third in slugging (.684), and third in on-base percentage (.482). In short, it’s no fluke that the Longhorns are the nation’s best team through the first month of the season. Houston scored 45 runs in four games last weekend and will need the hot bats to continue if they hope to pull off a shocker in front of their home crowd.

A Pivotal Series in Orlando

Most folks in the country won’t be paying attention to a series going on in Orlando this weekend, but I urge you to tune into Kansas (12-5-1) vs. UCF (11-7). The opening Big 12 series in UCF history is an important one, as both teams find themselves somewhere in the middle of the pack right now. At this point, I’d say UCF has underwhelmed and Kansas looks to be better than expected, but that notion could all change this weekend when these two get together.

UCF needs to start getting more out of Sarah Willis, as the former All-AAC pitcher has struggled a bit to this point in the season with a 2.42 ERA and 3-3 record. Meanwhile, Presley Limbaugh and Ayunslee Linduff come into this weekend leading the Jayhawks offense, while the combination of Katie Brooks and Kasey Hamilton is proving to be a winning combination in the circle thus far.