Last night Grand Canyon University opened the doors for the first time to the brand new GCU Softball Stadium in fantastic fashion by completing a two game sweep against Montana, the defending Big Sky Conference Champions. Brianna Aguilar pitched a gem in the first game leading the Lopes to a 6-2 victory. In the second game, Sierra Smith launched a go ahead grand slam in the bottom of the 5th inning, marking the first home run in the new stadium and giving the Lopes a 5-2 victory.
Tonight poses a new threat, as the Lopes will face their toughest and most anticipated test Friday afternoon when the face the two-time defending National Champion Oklahoma Sooners. The matchup is scheduled to be the main event for the opening weekend celebration of the new softball stadium. The game will be broadcasted on Channel 4 on YURVIEW TV and on ESPN 3 at 5:15 pm. GCU will need their school’s full support to upset the Sooners ongoing softball dynasty. The Havocs will be there in full force and don’t expect them to take it easy on the Lady Sooners.
The Sooners are one of the biggest softball powers and they will be the first big test for the Lady Lopes, as they open a new era for GCU softball. The Lopes are definitely on the rise as one of the fastest emerging softball powers, however, in order to make it the plateau, these are the games that can make a major difference.
These Lady Lopes have never shied away from playing good competition and tonight, they have an opportunity to measure themselves against the best team in the country. The Lopes met the Sooners two years ago, losing 7-1, however, GCU has gotten a lot better since then and the Sooners are about to be introduced to the best new softball environment in America.
Here is what to expect from this high profile softball match:
The Oklahoma Sooners come into this matchup ranked as the #1 team in the nation as they try to defend their championship reign for the second consectutive time. You would think that the Sooners would get tired of winning, but this year, Oklahoma is trying to make history by becoming the second program ever to win 3 consecutive national titles. The last team to accomplish this feat was UCLA through (1988-1990), but the sport of college softball has grown dramatically since then. The Sooners dominance over the past two years is one of the most under-appreciated runs of greatness in this sport. This Sooners team has a pretty good chance of continuing this outrageous success since this squad returns 11 of the 12 players who saw the field in the final game of the Women’s College World Series a season ago, including all of their pitchers. The Sooners have won 38 out of their last 40 games and 11 out of their last 12 and they plan on continuing their stretch of dominance at the DCU Invitational.
To say that this team is stacked would be an absolute understatement. The Oklahoma Sooners are the Alabama Crimson Tide of college softball. Sooners head coach Patty Gasso is the female incarnate of Nick Saban and she has lead this Sooners team for the last 22 years. The Sooners garnered 31 out of the 32 first place votes in the Coaches Preseason Poll.
The Sooners have 4 elite pitchers on their staff, led by the dynamic duo of Paige Parker and Paige Lowary. The sound of Paige Parker’s name tends to strike fear in her opponent’s eyes. Parker has been the three year ace of the staff and is regarded as the top pitcher in college softball. Last year, Parker posted a ridiculous K to walk ratio of 262/47 in 210 innings and tonight, the Lopes have a chance to witness the Jenny Finch of the future, as Parker is a lock to make the Olympic team in two years. Over the last three years, the lefty hurler has accumulated a 92-15 record with a 1.58 ERA, 755 strikeouts and 29 shutouts. The other Paige is no slouch either, as Lowary has gone 16-3 with a 1.53 ERA and accumulated 11 saves over 142 innings. The Lopes lefty heavy lineup will have its hands full trying to get hits off of these two devastating southpaw hurlers.
The Lopes will counter Oklahoma’s All American ace with a rising star of their own in GCU sophomore Brianna Aguilar. The Lopes will need Aguilar to pitch a gem to hold this stacked Oklahoma lineup. Aguilar gained experience pitching against great competition at the WBSC Junior Softball Championships. She will have the challenge of pitching against a lineup that features three stars on the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year watchlist. The Sooner lineup is anchored by infielder Shay Knighton (.358 average; 11 home runs; 70 RBI; .575 slugging percentage). Knighton, who stands only at 5’6, is a five tool star in the middle of the infield and is one of the best hitters in the country ranking number 11 on ESPNW top players list. Knighton’s teammates Caleigh Clifton (.356 average; .557 slugging; .528 on-base) and Sydney Romero (.339 average; 12 home runs; 59 RBI; .559 slugging) join her on the National Collegiate Watch List. The Sooners lineup also features sophomore utility player Nicole Mendes who hit 407 and 7 homeruns in 127 at bats and had 0.75 ERA in 14 pitching appearances. Mendes should provide a deeper role in her sophomore season and will be a national breakout player of the year candidate.
In order to keep the Sooners lineup at bay, Aguilar is going to have to do what she does best by forcing soft contact and keeping the ball on the ground. The Lopes have a chance to win every game when Brianna’s in the circle, but she must be aggressive in attacking the corners of the strike zone and changing speeds with her nasty change up. The Lopes have a very talented defensive infield and they are going to need to be perfect to help Aguilar out.
After talking up Oklahoma’s team, it’s tough to imagine any justification that gives GCU any sliver of hope to win this game, however, matchups like these is what makes softball one of the best sports around because any team can win at any given moment. Last year’s title defending Sooners team came out of the gate slow losing two out of their first 3 games of the season. They might be asleep at the wheel playing just mild competition. The atmosphere for this matchup is going to be tremendous and the Lopes have the talent to ferociously compete for a victory. Hell, tonight might be the night The Oklahoma Sooners softball empire begins to fall and GCU’s Purple Reign begins their climb to the top. #LOPESRISING.