Oklahoma begins its quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive national softball title on Friday.

Coach Patty Gasso’s Sooners appear to have a shot. They have claimed the No. 2 overall seed and beat No. 1 seed Texas for the Big 12 Tournament title. The Sooners (49-6) open regional play Friday night against Cleveland State at Love’s Field in Norman, Oklahoma. All regionals are double elimination.

Last season, the Sooners became the first team since UCLA from 1988 to 1990 to win three straight national championships. Shortly after winning their most recent championship, ace pitcher Jordy Bahl transferred back home to Nebraska. Bahl was Most Outstanding Player of last year’s World Series after not allowing a run.

Oklahoma picked up Oklahoma State’s Kelly Maxwell, and she has come through. The All-Big 12 selection has an 18-2 record with a 1.96 earned run average.

She has plenty of support. Tiare Jennings, a Top 10 finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, leads the Sooners with 19 home runs, 57 RBIs and 13 doubles. Jayda Coleman, Alyssa Brito and Kinzie Hansen are All-Big 12 picks. Hansen, a catcher, is the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

The regional winners advance to the best-of-three Super Regionals. Those winners advance to the Women’s College World Series, which starts May 30 in Oklahoma City.

Here are a few things to know heading into regional play.

HOOK ’EM?

Texas (47-7) won the Big 12 regular season title and claimed the No. 1 seed for the first time.

Reese Atwood was Big 12 Player of the Year after racking up a nation’s best 83 RBIs. The Top 10 player of the year finalist headlines a Texas squad that leads the nation with a .379 batting average.

Other Texas players on the All-Big 12 first team are pitchers Citlaly Gutierrez and Teagan Kavan, outfielder Ashton Maloney and utility player Mia Scott.

The Longhorns open regional play Friday at home against Siena.

KILFOYL SHINES

Once Maxwell left for Oklahoma, Lexi Kilfoyl became Oklahoma State’s undisputed ace, and she delivered. She was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and is a Top 10 player of the year finalist. She led the Big 12 in ERA (1.13), wins (21) and shutouts (six). She has two complete-game shutouts against Texas.

Kilfoyl showed she was capable with a strong finish to last season. She threw a three-hitter in an elimination game against Utah at last year’s World Series.

The fifth-seeded Cowgirls open at home Friday against Northern Colorado.

HOME RUN CHASE

Miami (Ohio) senior Karli Spaid leads the nation with 36 homers, one short of the Division I record of 37 home runs set by Arizona’s Laura Espinoza in 1995.

The Top 10 player of the year finalist ranks second in Division I history with 103 career blasts, only trailing Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo. This season, the Top 10 player of the year finalist is hitting .426 with 77 RBIs.

Miami will open Friday against Virginia in the Knoxville Regional.

ANOTHER GREAT BRADY

UCLA’s Maya Brady has proven to be much more than just Tom Brady’s niece.

She is a Top 10 player of the year finalist who repeated as Pac-12 Player of the Year after hitting .403 with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs.

Brady emerged on the national scene in 2022, when she hit two homers in a World Series game against Oklahoma. She was one of three finalists for national player of the year last season.

The Bruins open Friday at home against Grand Canyon, a team that took a game from them in last year’s regional when UCLA was seeded No. 2 overall.

OVERPOWERING CANADY

Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady enters the postseason with a nation-leading 0.50 ERA and ranks second with 256 strikeouts. The sophomore will help the No. 8 seed Cardinal try to return to the World Series. She made the World Series all-tournament team last year.

Stanford opens Friday against Saint Mary’s (Calif.).

SEC POWER

Texas and Oklahoma, the top two overall seeds, will join the Southeastern Conference next year. With Tennessee seeded third and Florida fourth, that means teams that will be in the SEC next year claimed the top four overall seeds.

Other seeded SEC teams are No. 7 Missouri, No. 9 LSU, No. 11 Georgia, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 14 Alabama and No. 16 Texas A&M.

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports