OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time in three seasons, Division I softball will have a new national champion.
Oklahoma’s quest to become only the second team in history to win three straight NCAA crowns came to an end Sunday afternoon with a 3-0 loss to Washington in the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. It was the second straight shutout delivered by the Huskies, who also had a 2-0 opening-round triumph over OU on Thursday.
Even with the outcome, the Sooners have won three of the last six national titles and four crowns since 2000.
Afterward, an emotional Patty Gasso fought back tears as she discussed this year’s 57-5 team and its six seniors.
“They had their minds set that they were going to play on Monday (in their third straight championship series), and I appreciate that,” said Gasso, who wrapped up her 24th season at OU. “That’s why I love this team. That’s why it hurts, because two years straight we have not had to feel this. In a great way, but a weird way, (it’s) an odd feeling to sit up here and feel emotional, because our emotions were off the charts (after winning the last two titles). ‘Oh, my gosh. We just did this.’ So, if you can just kind of grasp the eliteness of this group to say, ‘Wow, we’re in the final four,’ but it just isn’t good enough because we’ve been there two years. That is something that’s indescribable (with) this group. I don’t know any other groups that have felt this. So it’s been a great ride.”
Four of OU’s five losses this season came against Pacific 12 Conference teams and the Sooners failed to cross home plate against any of them. There was a 2-0 loss to Arizona on Feb. 24 in Palm Springs, Calif.; a 5-0 loss at Oregon on April 19; plus the two shutouts complements of the Huskies (52-8) in the WCWS.
“I think Washington is an outstanding team, and they beat us twice – flat-out beat us,” Gasso said. “They earned everything that they got. No doubt, no doubt. We just couldn't get our legs into things.”
On Elimination Saturday, OU senior All-American lefthander Paige Parker threw a pair of two-hitters and two complete games in 184 pitches. She was the primary reason the Sooners were able to advance to Sunday’s championship series qualifier.
Gasso had the unenviable task of deciding whether Parker was rested enough to start her third elimination game in 25 hours.
Gasso opted to turn to another Paige and started fellow senior lefthander Paige Lowary (10-2), who immediately was touched for three hits and one run in the bottom of the first inning. Lowary was pulled after 38 pitches, during which she allowed four hits and two runs in two full innings.
“Paige Lowary was wanting a little bit more opportunity against Washington,” Gasso explained. “For some reason, we just weren’t making plays the way we needed to. She was a little bit behind in counts at times, so it was more just a change momentum-type situation. Nothing that she did horribly wrong or anything. It’s just feel of the game and trying something different.”
Parker closed out the final four innings, striking out four, scattering four hits and allowing a fifth-inning solo home run to Julia DePonte (3-for-3; two RBI) to set the final margin.
“When people recognize pitchers in this game, they recognize the strikeouts and they don’t recognize so much the craftiness and the will and the guts, and what Paige Parker did (Saturday) was something I don’t know that you’ll see again,” Gasso said. “Just like I said this when she was a sophomore, I don’t know that you'll ever see someone pitch every inning of every game and get every win at a Women’s College World Series the way she did in the championship her sophomore year. She’s one of the best this sport has ever seen, and people should understand that. I do.”
Parker said, “I am just so thankful to have been a part of this program for the past four years. I’ve met lifelong friends. I’ve created relationships with people that will never be broken, and I’ve just had so much fun and I’ve been so blessed to have been coached by coach Gasso and coach (Melyssa) Lombardi and JT (Gasso). I’m just so blessed that they took a chance on me and have had confidence in me and believed in me.”
In Thursday’s opening-round game, Huskies right fielder Trysten Melhart made a diving catch on a line drive off the bat of OU junior first baseman Shay Knighten. The Sooners trailed 2-0 with two baserunners at the time. Had the ball gotten past Melhart and rolled to the outfield fence, OU potentially could have taken a 3-2 lead on an inside-the-park home run from Knighten.
An eerily similar scenario occurred Sunday with the same result. The Sooners trailed 2-0 and had baserunners on first and second when Melhart once again robbed Knighten with a diving catch off a line drive that also could have resulted in an inside-the-park home run had it rolled to the outfield fence.
“They're making great plays,” Gasso said of the Huskies. “Every time we got an opportunity, the right fielder is just killing us. She was exceptional. So, again, the fight this team had to go through yesterday and the heat and get up and really … I mean, we believed we could do this (win the title after opening with a loss), and if you don't believe, you won't.”
The Sooners had seven hits Sunday, but also stranded seven runners on base. Freshman sensation Joselyn Alo, who tied a freshman Division I record with 30 home runs this season, led the way going 2-for-3.
“I’m just going to take everything that they (the seniors) have taught me on and off the field, and we’re going to come back stronger next year,” said Alo, who led the team with a .424 batting average. “For sure, no doubt.”
OU batted .321 as a team this season and led the nation in scoring, but the Sooners batted just .220 in the WCWS and went scoreless twice.
“It’s great pitching that we’re facing,” Gasso explained. “Every pitcher here, every team here has to have at least two superstar pitchers, and if you don't have that, you're probably not going to last very long.”
The 2018 Sooners finish with a 57-5 record, good for a .919 winning percentage that ranks second in school annals. The senior class concludes its OU career with a 224-31 record over the past four years.