2023 Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic

How Mark Campbell & Mary Nutter Tourneys Set Stage for OU's Historic Season

How Mark Campbell & Mary Nutter Tourneys Set Stage for OU's Historic Season

The Mark Campbell Invitational and Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic proved to be vital gauges and stepping stones for Oklahoma's return to the WCWS.

Jun 7, 2023 by Briar Napier
Highlights: UCLA Vs. Oklahoma

Oklahoma softball’s magical ride in 2023, in which it now sits just two wins away from the first three-peat of national championships in the sport in over three decades, had to start somewhere.

Win streaks of 51 games (and counting) don’t pop up out of thin air. You don’t get to be the nation’s No. 1 offense, defense and pitching staff by not putting in the work against all types of opponents, whether they are pushovers or fellow elite-level programs.

The Mark Campbell Invitational and Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, two early-season events in which the Sooners – the defending national title holders and the nation’s No. 1-ranked team for nearly the entire season – competed in well before they got back to Oklahoma City, proved pivotal in different ways for molding what possibly could be the greatest single season from a team college softball has ever seen. 

Champions are crowned in June, but they’re often made in February. And, in the Sooners’ case, that first month on the college softball calendar proved vital in getting them to the brink of a three-peat. 

Here’s a look at how Oklahoma, which will be looking to pull off the first three-peat in college softball since UCLA from 1988-1990 later this week in the final of the Women’s College World Series, got to this point – and how two high-stakes events helped solidify the Sooners as the team on top of the college softball world for months to come.

A Perfect Start

The road to following up on a record-breaking 2022 campaign, in which OU went 59-3 and won a national championship in similarly dominant fashion, did have its barriers, despite how the Sooners look right now in Oklahoma City. 

Gone was the sport’s all-time home run queen, Jocelyn Alo, as was 22-1 ace Hope Trautwein, who had a legendary single year with the program after moving from North Texas after the 2021 season. 

Those two names were imperative to that OU team being designated by some as the greatest college softball team ever – prior to this year – but programs like Oklahoma don’t rebuild, they reload. 

That was readily apparent when the Sooners stormed out to a 5-0 start with three ranked wins in three days at the Mark Campbell Invitational in Irvine, California. 

The preseason’s No. 1-ranked team, OU got the ball rolling immediately in its season opener against Duke on Feb. 9, taking down a Blue Devils team quickly rising up the national ranks since its first season in 2018 by a 4-0 score. 

A hairy extra-inning 1-0 victory over a strong Liberty team – responsible for knocking No. 2 UCLA out of its own regional in the NCAA Tournament a couple of weeks ago – followed, before two Pac-12 Conference foes that went on to qualify for the WCWS, Stanford and Washington, stood in the Sooners’ way. 

The Cardinal were up first, and Oklahoma, months before beating Stanford twice at the Hall of Fame Stadium on its way to the title series, run-ruled them 10-1 behind four-run second and fourth innings, showing just how devastating the Sooners’ offense could be in powerful bursts. 

Against the Huskies, meanwhile, pitchers Jordy Bahl and Nicole May combined to limit the damage done by names other than UW’s Madison Huskey (who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs) and help OU skate by with a 5-4 victory, helped by the fact that eight Sooners garnered a hit in the game. 

The team’s trip to Irvine was complete with a 9-0 shutout, run-rule win over San Jose State. 

After the first weekend of play, OU looked as if it was in tip-top shape.

A Statement Made

Unlike entering the Mark Campbell, when the excitement of a new season and being the one everyone is chasing took center stage, the vibes in the Oklahoma dugout entering the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic were much different. 

The Sooners had just come off of a trip to the Getterman Classic in Waco, Texas, where in the finale against Big 12 Conference rival and host Baylor, they lost 4-3. 

It was a seismic result for several reasons.

It was just OU’s eighth defeat since the beginning of the 2021 season, knocked Oklahoma off of its perch as the No. 1-ranked team in America and reminded the rest of the sport that the Sooners – after rolling through much of college softball with an iron fist over the prior two years – weren’t unbeatable. 

What would come next at the Mary Nutter, however, wasn’t just exactly the response OU needed to get back on track, but also the beginning of the greatest winning streak in college softball history. 

The Sooners’ record-breaking run of 51 consecutive wins (as of Tuesday morning) began with a run-rule victory over Cal State Fullerton in their first game in Cathedral City on Feb. 24, followed by another five-inning win a few hours later against Texas A&M. 

Utah, which later made the WCWS for the first time in 19 years, was next on the docket the following day and the next team to be downed by the mighty Sooners, with OU winning 10-3 behind a multi-RBI day from Tiare Jennings, Jocelyn Erickson and Alyssa Brito. 

Another run-rule win over Loyola Marymount followed, before the real headline matchup of the weekend – Oklahoma vs. UCLA – arrived Feb. 26 as a highly anticipated finale and a WCWS rematch from the previous season. 

The Bruins and Sooners have had many classic battles over their decorated histories, but their last meeting in Oklahoma City in the 2022 WCWS semifinals saw UCLA nearly knock out OU, forcing the Sooners to an elimination game.

OU rebounded to seal a spot in the championship series. 

Plus, it was UCLA, then 17-0 to start the 2023 season, that overtook the No. 1 national ranking after Oklahoma faltered against Baylor, and the Bruins were aiming to further emphasize that they were the top dogs in the country by taking down their best competition. 

Instead, OU mashed them. 

After an eye-popping 14-0, five-inning rout, in which the Sooners erupted on All-American Bruins ace Megan Faraimo and the rest of the rotation for 20 hits, including six home runs, Oklahoma was right back in the top slot of the national rankings days later and showcased that, yeah, maybe people should reconsider thinking that another team had overtaken its throne atop college softball. 

It's now months later, and the Sooners haven’t lost again – and there’s little reason to think their reign won’t continue. 

A Streak On The Line

Remember how there was chatter that the 2022 Oklahoma team was (deservedly) being considered as the greatest college softball team of all time? Well, the OU team that immediately followed already might be the new holder of that title, but a national championship would especially drive the point home. 

There isn’t a weakness in the Sooner dugout.

Statistically, it has the best lineup, pitching staff and defense in America by significant margins, has a national-best five first-team All-Americans and has responded to essentially every challenge put in front of them by smashing through the barriers and winning, often in lopsided and/or dramatic fashion. 

OU’s almost-certain inevitability that it’ll come out on top in any given circumstance on the diamond has made it one of the sport’s most exciting and eye-catching programs, and a seventh national championship – which would put it one closer to Arizona’s eight, the second most of any school in the NCAA era besides UCLA – later this week, if they can defeat Florida State twice at the Hall of Fame Stadium, would be a hallmark moment in arguably the greatest dynasty the sport has ever seen. 

If Oklahoma does indeed get the job done and holds up yet another trophy, keep in mind where the journey began and where the foundation of the year’s success was set.

Without the Mark Campbell and the Mary Nutter and their devastating performances in those two events, the Sooners’ climb to the top of the mountain would’ve had a bit less flair and drama to it. 

So, as the longest winning stretch in college softball history rolls on, all the way to a possible third straight national title, Oklahoma can take solace in the fact that it was dared to respond in the early goings and quieted the  doubters, starting with a series of statement victories in February.