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Patty Gasso 'trusting' in Cydney Sanders amid offensive struggles

NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso made one thing clear on Tuesday.

She trusts in Cydney Sanders. However, Gasso knows she's got some lineup questions to figure out this weekend.

Gasso's attention has focused to the back of her team's batting lineup as the No. 2-seeded Sooners prepare to host No. 15-seeded Florida State for Super Regionals this weekend, and Sanders has been at the center of that. The junior first baseman has been pivotal to the Sooners' defense, but she's gone through a prolonged slump at the plate this season. Since March 22, she's batted just 6 of 49 at the plate (.122%) to go with 13 strikeouts. In the postseason, she's gone one for nine at the plate.

Gasso had a simple message for Sanders on Tuesday.

“[She needs to] get it out of her head and stop thinking," Gasso said. "... It’s just body language. You can see that she’s mad at herself and then it kind of sinks in. She’s got 40 walks, which is unbelievable. So she is finding her way on base, and I’m saying when she swings a bat, if it’s a swing and miss, you hear the crowd going, ‘Oh.’ I mean, she’s got the swing. It’s just not clicking for her right now."

Sanders isn't the only player who's had some struggles in recent weeks. Alynah Torres, who's been the primary starter at second base, is just one for eight at the plate in the postseason. Both have typically batted in the seven and eight spots, respectively, in the lineup.

The Sooners definitely have options, but they're in search of consistent answers.

While she's had her offensive struggles, Sanders has had really good moments, too. She has 13 home runs this season and has an on-base percentage of .473%, the fourth highest on the team, and her 40 walks trail only Jayda Coleman for the team best. Torres has posted a solid batting average of .343% with eight home runs.

Sanders was also a key cog in last year's national championship team, both offensively and defensively, and she's been really good defensively with a fielding percentage of .996%. She's also committed just one error this season.

That defensive prowess is what keeps Gasso confident.

"It’s not us saying, ‘Well OK, you go sit over here right now ‘til we call on you.’ She’s too good at first," Gasso said. "She really has a great glove at first. She's too good at first. She really has a great glove at first. I’m just trusting in that.

"Same thing with Alynah. She’s putting the ball in play, but it’s a little too routine and I know she knows she’s better than that. So both of them are getting a little bit aggravated with themselves and maybe trying too hard, and then letting it kind of sink in. So we’ve got to shake that. We’re gonna work on trying to do that the next couple of days.”

However, Gasso said she's going to keep her options open.

To find some consistency at the bottom of the lineup, Gasso made some tweaks during the regional tournament last weekend. She moved Rylie Boone, who's normally in the nine-spot, to the seven spot to juice the back-end of the lineup. Torres' versatility has been key — she started for Sanders at first base against Cleveland State, then replaced her in the fifth inning of Sunday's regional final. Avery Hodge and Torres saw a lot of work at second base as Gasso made adjustments.

Hodge has had her own struggles this season, batting just .274% with an on-base percentage of .373%. But she forced a key walk during the the second inning of Sunday's regional final, and she was eventually scored on the next-at bay on an RBI double by Tiare Jennings.

Gasso is confident she can put out any combination of Sanders, Torres and Hodge in the infield this weekend against Florida State. But either way, she knows they've got to find some offense.

"Avery has just been fighting all year to get in and get opportunity," Gasso said. "She showed a lot of fire this last weekend and I really like that about her. One thing that she gives us is the ability to run. She can beat things out. She can create a little chaos in that way. Cyd is good at first. Alynah is good at first and second. Avery is very good at second. I know they wish it was cut and dry, but they all matchup differently for different pitchers, and that’s really what it’s about. Who can have the best success?

"Just like you put a good pitcher on the mound that can have the best success against a team that’s not good with rise balls. So you try to find what can have the best success. Sometimes it’s one of them, sometimes it’s not. But we need some clicking going on in that bottom of the lineup.”

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