OKLAHOMA CITY – A ridiculously remarkable, record-setting season ended Thursday night for the Oklahoma softball team with the Sooners clutching the program’s sixth NCAA championship trophy.
Such an achievement came as no surprise given OU spent every week atop the national rankings while leading Division I teams in a gaggle of categories both at the plate and in the pitcher’s circle.
The title clincher came with a 10-5 victory over Red River rival and fellow Big 12 rep Texas before an appreciative crowd of 12,257 at USA Softball Stadium. The Sooners have now won four of the last six championships staged (COVID canceled the 2020 tournament) and their six crowns trail only UCLA (12) and Arizona (8) all-time.
OU finished 59-3 (.952) overall.
As that record suggests, the Sooners disposed of opponents in an authoritative manner that included 41 run-rule victories, 33 shutouts, eight no-hitters, holding opponents to one run or fewer 49 times, hitting home runs in 56 of 62 games, plus numerous other mind-boggling superlatives.
These type things tend to happen when your team has five first-team All-Americans, a group led by super senior Jocelyn Alo, the sport’s new career home run queen (122) who also became the first player in history to hit 30 home runs and bat .500 in the same season, finishing with a .512 average.
Fellow All-Americans Jayda Coleman (.419), Tiare Jennings (.400) and Grace Lyons (.400) all hit .400 or better while true freshman pitcher Jordy Bahl finished with a 22-1 record and a 1.16 ERA with 207 strikeouts in 145 1/3 innings.
All things considered, a strong argument can be made this might be the greatest collegiate softball team ever assembled.
Asked afterward to chime in on the team’s place in history, Coleman, Bahl and catcher Kinzie Hansen modestly stayed non-committal to make such a bold declaration while admitting they anxiously await what the future holds within the program.
Then there was Alo.
“I would say with me being a senior, I think this is the best team,” Alo said with a smile. “But one thing about Sooner softball, and I’ve seen it year in and year out, is they just continue to get better. I don’t know what holds next year, but I know that they could be a run for the best team too and years to come. I just think Sooner softball will continually climb and keep climbing the ladder. I think you should be excited for what’s being to.”
OU head coach Patty Gasso deferred to the masses. “I’m going to let you decide,” Gasso told a roomful of reporters afterward. “You guys all have the stats and all that stuff. I could rank them very, very high, if not the highest, because everything they do looks so easy to me, and they do it so fast.”
Gasso constantly has preached that defense wins championships and Thursday night’s comeback proved it. Because despite the incessant praise about how well the Sooners hit and pitch, it was defense that undeniably helped deliver Thursday’s hardware.
The Longhorns opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly from Alyssa Washington that rightfielder Rylie Boone caught on the warning track while looking directly into the sun.
Coleman followed by catching back-to-back deep fly balls in centerfield to disarm UT’s potentially explosive first inning.
Coleman’s first catch was against the outfield wall off the bat of Mary Iakopo with runners at second and third. Almost on cue, Coleman then reached over the wall for the final out of the inning, robbing Courtney Day of what would have been a 2-run homer.
“I was a little sick to my stomach for a second as I saw it getting some distance,” Gasso said. “If Jayda could get up on the wall and reach, she’s going to catch it, and I know that about her. She is an incredible, incredible athlete.”
Texas took a 2-0 lead that could have been triple that size.
“That was a big momentum turn for us because easily the score could have looked a lot different than 2-0,” Gasso said. “I was really proud of her efforts and trying to make some things happen defensively. I told the team before we even started in this tournament defense plays a huge role. Now, hitting, timely hitting, pitching, but defense can make or break you.”
The Sooners continued with more defensive gems.
The third inning brought an all-world double-play that unsurprisingly started with Lyons, who backhanded Iakopo’s sharp grounder. Lyons threw a dart to second baseman Jennings, who fired a fastball to first baseman Taylon Snow to barely nab Iakopo.
In the bottom of the fourth, Coleman fielded JJ Smith’s single that bounded off the wall in right-center. The lefthanded Coleman wheeled and fired a laser to second base, where Lyons applied the tag to rob Smith of a double. “That was big for us,” Gasso said.
This gem of a sequence noticeably ignited Bahl’s fire as she authoritatively struck out Lauren Burke to end the inning. It would be the final batter Bahl faced as sophomore righthander Nicole May relieved her to start the fifth and helped seal the win by allowing just one hit and striking out two in 2 1/3 innings.
In the fifth, leftfielder Alyssa Brito charged in, dove and slipped her glove just underneath Mia Scott’s sinking line drive to end the inning.
It was around this time OU’s bats awoke after going scoreless the first three innings. The Sooners tied the score at 2 in the fourth, took a 6-2 lead in the fifth sparked by Hansen’s 3-run homer to left field, then increased their lead to 10-2 buoyed by a 3-run blast from Lyons in the sixth.
In the seventh inning, Gasso began implementing an array of curtain calls for her seniors, which included inserting super senior righthander Hope Trautwein. Presumably battling emotions, the transfer from North Texas struggled badly with control, walking two and surrendering a 3-run homer to Scott before finally registering the final out.
Even doubling up on the scoreboard against the Longhorns put Gasso on edge.
“First I’m like, ‘What a fool. I just blew it. Here comes Texas coming back, and I’m trying to give Joce a hurrah,’ ” Gasso said with a sigh. “I was like, ‘I shouldn’t have listened to (son) JT Gasso, who told me to do that.”
The first four hitters in the OU lineup are all first-team All-Americans, but on this night Coleman, Alo, Jennings and Lyons combined for a rather modest 4 for 13 (.308).
The bottom half of the order was clutch, with Hansen, Snow, Boone, Alyssa Brito, Jana Johns and Grace Green going a combined 8 for 18 (.444) with five RBI.
#Sooners #Win #Sixth #National #Title #University #Oklahoma