Jun. 12—At the top of the list may be irony. Because, in many ways, what finished inside Hall of Fame Stadium Thursday afternoon in Oklahoma City was the Women’s College World Series being all its organizers ever dreamed it might be.
Every year the tournament can run anywhere from 14 to 17 games, yet the full 17 had never been played.
Because it did, there were more opportunities to sell tickets, to watch on television and because weather forced an extra day be added to accommodate so many games, it meant the sport had the nation buzzing for an extra day.
What could be better?
Many things, it turns out.
The WCWS is over, yet so much happened, it’s worth a look back.
The actual softball was terrific, so why not bask in it for one more day. Also, because it was terrific, and because the circumstances weren’t, it’s bound to be remembered for other reasons, too. And because we love lists, here’s five things to remember and take from it:
1. Change coming: “Irony” was mentioned above, because what should have been, or even still might have been the finest WCWS to date, is bound to be a harbinger of change.
On the tourney’s third day, Oklahoma State and Florida State got started a few minutes before midnight and were fortunate to finish by 2:30 a.m.
Because Florida State won that game, the Seminoles were looking at playing two games the next day on top of it.
They wound up not having to, because poor weather delayed their first of those games, which they won, topping Alabama.
But had they lost, there’s a good chance Oklahoma would have been made to play James Madison later that same night in a contest that could easily have stretched past midnight.
Given Oklahoma weather, the fact the men’s College World Series is scheduled over a longer time frame that allows for more rest than the women receive and more days to get the games in, too, not to mention that coaches and others who care about the sport have about had it and are refusing to be silent, it’s hard to imagine the WCWS continuing without format changes.
2. Pitching still the key: Back when Oklahoma’s pitching remained a mystery and perhaps even when it appeared to be solved after both Nicole May and Shannon Saile starred in the super regional round against Washington, there was the thought that, should they have to, the Sooners could still just slug their way to a championship.
That didn’t happen.
OU earned 34 run-rule victories before the WCWS began, but won just one of its eight games at Hall of Fame Stadium by run-rule.
The fewest runs OU had scored all season entering the tournament was four, which only happened twice and only once before the postseason.
OU was held to five or fewer runs three times and six two more times after averaging more than 11.
In the end, the Sooners won every game in which opponents were held to three or fewer runs and lost the two they weren’t.
It’s still a pitcher’s game.
3. Gasso’s gut has sixth sense: The WCWS turned around once OU faced elimination and Sooner coach Patty Gasso made two moves in that game that made all the difference in the world. She moved Mackenzie Donihoo from the bench to left field and she started Giselle Juarez in the circle.
Shannon Saile had lost the opener to James Madison, but had only given up what should have been two solo home runs and just two hits; yet wound up being four runs and three hits, the result of an error and a seemingly blown call.
Given a day off before playing again, Gasso could have brought Saile back, or could have gone with Nicole May, who’d pitched well a week earlier against Washington. Instead, she went with Juarez who’d had almost two weeks off after allowing three runs over two innings to Wichita State.
Juarez pitched a shutout and went on to be named most outstanding player and Donihoo hit two home runs and continued hitting the rest of the tournament, while making huge plays in the field, including the Nos. 1 and 3 plays, on back-to-back nights, on ESPN’s SportsCenter’s top 10.
4. Alo and goodbye: Jocelyn Alo entered the World Series with 30 home runs and exited with 34, but the last two she launched did not just give OU the lead for good in each game, but was an exceptional piece of hitting.
Wednesday, it was a two-run shot to the opposite field on a pitch low and away from Kathryn Sandercock. Thursday it was a first-inning solo shot on a pitch a touch more up but just as away from Danielle Watson. That one she pulled.
The first of them, most good hitters, even good power hitters, might drive down the right-field line, or line into the right-center-field the gap, but Alo somehow summoned the power to lift it out of the park.
The second, were she to hit it out, probably should have gone to the same place the first one went. Instead, she got all the way around on it and yanked it over the fence in left field.
The power required to take either out of the park is immense.
5. Replay coming: Gasso went long on the need to introduce replay to softball, at least at the WCWS, her monologue beginning thusly:
“We have over 40 cameras here and there’s a reason we cannot have instant replay?”
Opening day, a very close play went against OU at first base and that runner being called safe precipitated a sacrifice bunt, which precipitated a Sooner error.
Though very close, replay appeared to indicate a missed call at first base. Had OU gotten the call, no bunt follows and the three-run home run hit by Sara Jubas; well, Jubas might not even have come to the plate that inning and certainly not with two runners aboard.
In the top of the first in Game 2 of the championship series, Nicole Mendes was clearly safe at first base, yet called out. It wound up not mattering, but as Gasso pointed out, that’s not the point.
“For the good of the game,” she said, “we want things to be right.”
It’s hard to imagine another WCWS permitting clearly blown calls.
Follow me @clayhorning