May 30—Here’s the deal.UCLA, the No. 2 overall seed, may be a better softball team than any of us know.
Alabama, the No. 3 overall seed, has a pitcher, Montana Fouts, who struck out 16 Clemson batters in the Tuscaloosa Regional championship and 11 more Kentucky batters on Friday, before taking Saturday off, though the Tide won again and are headed back to Oklahoma City.
Florida, the No. 4 seed, has been eliminated, yet the team that beat the Gators is Georgia, who handed Oklahoma the first of its two losses.
So maybe the road still in front of the Sooners as they take the short drive to Hall of Fame Stadium for another Women’s College World Series, hoping to nab the program’s fifth national championship, is marked with more obstacles than can be be imagined.
What’s also clear is how good this OU team now appears to be.
Coach Patty Gasso said she was surprised her team got the top seed.
She may not have detailed the reasons why, but her pitching staff entered the Norman Super Regional a mystery and who knew how her lineup might fare against a legit and terrific pitcher?
Friday morning, those were real concerns. Now, if we’re prepared to believe what we’ve seen right before our eyes or on ABC, which historically broadcast Saturday’s 9-1 run-rule victory over Washington, those concerns are moot.
Indeed, without even taking a question during her postgame press conference, the first words from Gasso’s mouth, in her summary of events before queries were lodged, couldn’t have been more accurate.
“I could not imagine it going better,” she said.
How could she have?
The only blemishes over the two days, really, were errors committed by right fielder Nicole Mendes in Friday’s third inning and third baseman Jana Johns in Friday’s seventh.
But given that Nicole May pitched through each, allowing no damage to come from either, the miscues may only have done OU a favor, creating quickly overcome adversity, making the Sooners better faster as they head toward Oklahoma City.
Blessings in disguise.
The rest of the weekend?
Blessings in plain view.
The obstacles may be many, but absolutely the Sooners look like the No. 1 overall seed, entirely the team to beat.
Jocelyn Alo, who had a big game Saturday, connecting for three hits three different ways — an infield single off Washington pitcher Gabbie Plain’s glove, a home run, a single off an off-speed pitch she adjusted to and muscled into the outfield — was ultimately left with only the truth when asked for comment on the potency of OU’s lineup.
“We’re that good,” she said.
All that stuff about Sooner pitching being questionable, an Achilles heel, not ready for prime time?
That’s so 72 hours ago.
On Friday, everybody was falling all over each other, congratulating May on becoming the No. 1 pitcher the Sooners have been waiting for and, delivering in a tighter game and having faced more trouble, perhaps she’s exactly that.
The only problem with it is, on Saturday, Shannon Saile looked like a No. 1 pitcher, too.
May gave up seven hits and two runs in seven innings. Saile gave up four and one in five. They both struck out five. May walked none. Saile walked only one.
It was all kind of magical.
The park was full.
Named for Marita Hynes, who was right there watching, behind home plate, good luck trying to find an open seat.
Meanwhile, beyond left field, in the expanse of space the Pride of Oklahoma uses to practice its routines, had to be, what, another 1,500 fans or so, watching ABC’s telecast on a giant screen?
The first college softball game to be broadcast on network television, the TV bosses might have hoped for a better game. What they could not have hoped for, however, was a better atmosphere.
Seriously, new Sooner basketball coaches Porter Moser and Jennie Baranczyk ought to have walked up to each fan in the main part of the stadium, the die hards, the always-theres, and handed out season tickets to their games if only the fans would promise to show up across the street at Lloyd Noble Center.
That’s because the best Sooner student section for any sport isn’t a student section at all. The best Sooner student section is comprised of the softball program’s true believers, who scream and dance and chant like they just don’t care.
Even with that support behind them, OU’s not likely to win it all in a walk.
Games are bound to be close. Plays must still be made. Even machines must prove their mettle.
But there’s no reason to think this team can’t do it. It has answered every challenge.
Gasso offered something else before the questions came.
“This group has a different something about them,” she said.
She should know.
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