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Jordy Bahl’s Real Women’s College World Series Debut

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Oklahoma sophomore Jordy Bahl has already spent more time at Hall of Fame Stadium than most college softball players do in a lifetime, from Big 12 tournaments and regular season showcases to last year’s Women’s College World Series. But everything old can be new again.

And Hall of Fame Stadium has never seen Bahl quite like this, the last unbending and unbreakable line of defense on a day when her teammates needed that bulwark to hold off Stanford.

“She lives for those moments,” Patty Gasso said Thursday. “It’s not a lie. It’s real. She loves the pressure, and that’s where she thrives the most.”

We saw Bahl take the field in the World Series a season ago. We even saw the freshman start the championship-clinching game against Texas. But we only a shadow of the pitcher who mesmerized college softball in the early weeks of her debut season, the pitcher who fearlessly took on and beat UCLA in its own backyard the first week of her first college season. 

Injured during last year’s Bedlam series against Oklahoma State, she didn’t pitch at all in the Big 12 tournament, regional or super regional rounds. And the nine innings she ultimately pitched in the World Series were almost literally watching someone pitch with one hand tied behind her back. Which, come to think of it, might only be fair. Bahl proved a resolute cheerleader during those weeks, but for a player who we’ve seen pinch run and play the outfield, in addition to her pitching duties, watching from the bench is the only skill that doesn’t come naturally. 

“When the injury happened, emotions took over,” Gasso said earlier this season. “That was hard. That was really hard for her because this is something that elite players, especially freshmen, dream of. Postseason is what you’re waiting for. It was hard to help her get through that and be patient. She felt helpless because she really wanted to help her team.”

And of all her attributes, that desire to be a part of what’s going on may be the most important. 

Put aside the eye black, the pacing around the circle and all of the general energy, and Bahl is a technician, a craftswoman of the highest order. She has wicked movement and uncanny poise. Even a year ago, talking about what she looks for most in a pitcher in this day and age of young pitchers trying to throw everything, Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson’s mind went immediately to the then-freshman she had seen beat her team in Lexington.  

“In my dream world, what you would see is a pitcher who is able to throw different types of spin into the same zone,” Lawson said at the time. “You have to be older and more mature—or at least mature. That’s what makes Jordy Bahl so special. She can tunnel all these different pitches, mixing up the speed and spin in the same zone. It makes it really hard to hit against her. But she’s special. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

And yet there are other pitchers with special stuff and precociousness, other technicians. Not many, but some. We saw one of them baffle the Sooners for most of five innings Thursday, Stanford’s NiJaree Canady no less dominant against the nation’s best lineup than Bahl was at times as a freshman. Canady threw her rise harder than Bahl, threw it at more heights. 

What sets Bahl apart from almost anyone is sheer, simple all-time stubbornness.

  • In the first inning, Stanford got two runners on base with one out, the second reaching after being hit by a pitch that got well away from Bahl. But perhaps aided by Stanford’s gamble to put down a sacrifice with one out, Bahl retired the next two batters—finishing on a strikeout. 
  • In the fourth inning, Stanford again had runners on first and second with one out. And again, Bahl pressed on. She struck out Emily Schultz for the second out, taking pressure off herself and her defense, and then struck out Kaitlyn Lim to end the inning. 
  • In the fifth inning, well, by now you know the drill. Runners on first and second, one out. Bahl struck out Taylor Gindlesperger, one of Stanford’s best hitters, on three pitches for the second out, the retired Aly Kaneshiro on a fly ball to end the top of the inning. 
  • And in the seventh inning, after Jayda Coleman had finally given the Sooners a lead to protect two innings earlier, Bahl allowed the tying run to reach base and then struck out the final two batters. All three outs in the final inning came by strikeout. 

She didn’t have a great game because she came close to matching a season high with 11 strikeouts. She struck out 11 batters in the World Series because she sensed that she needed a great game.

There’s a world of difference in those two things.

“Those are honestly the situations you kind of like to be in as a pitcher at times,” Bahl said Thursday. “Because,when teams press you like that, it makes you be your best, and you can’t take a pitch off, and it’s a good test. So those moments are kind of fun even though they’re really high stress at times.”

Obviously, Bahl, Gasso, pitching coach Jen Rocha and every Sooners fan would prefer not to pitch with runners on base. But just as was the case in the opening game of the super regional against Clemson, when she stranded runners after runner in her first career start in that round, Bahl under pressure, even self-made, is Bahl at her best and most relentless. 

“It’s almost like she gives herself a wake up call and just changes,” Gasso said earlier this season. “She just shut things down. It’s an attitude of ‘By golly, you don’t think I can get out of this?’ I love that competitive spirit about Jordy. I haven’t seen anyone like it. It’s really fun to watch. And I think it’s encouraging for other pitchers who watch her and want to be like her. She’s just fearless, absolutely fearless.”

The technical mastery makes her excellent. The athleticism sets her apart. But what makes her one of the most watchable figures in recent memory is the competitiveness.

When you have Bahl on the ropes, she has you right where she wants you.

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