WCWS Finals: For National Champion Oklahoma, Unmatched Excellence AgainTop Stories
Game 2: No. 1 Oklahoma 10, Texas 5 (Oklahoma wins WCWS)
Patty Gasso didn’t have to go far to see how much ground her program had to make up in the 1990s. Just up the road from the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, she could watch Arizona and UCLA trade national titles every spring in the Women’s College World Series.
The event wasn’t as big then as it is now. There weren’t the big outfield bleachers, let alone an upper deck rising above the grandstand. There wasn’t a best-of-three championship series. There weren’t millions watching from afar on television and interacting with every highlight on social media.
But the standard of excellence? The Bruins and Wildcats were ahead of their time with that. The road to a title ran through Oklahoma City, but you had to go through Arizona and UCLA.
Now you have to go through Norman.
Don’t let the map fool you. Those 28 miles separating Marita Hynes Field and Hall of Fame Stadium might not look like much. But the rest of college softball can more easily get to the moon and back than close the gap separating everyone else from the six-time champions.
After turning what began as a tense championship series encounter with Texas into another typically lopsided victory, Oklahoma is national champion for the second season in a row, the fourth time in the past six tournaments, the fifth time in nine tournaments and the sixth time this century.
The best offensive team in the country scored double digit runs for the second time in as many nights, the third time in the World Series and the fifth time this postseason.
The nation’s best pitching staff barely needed Hope Trautwein, the lone Oklahoma pitcher who made the All-WCWS team. It didn’t even need its freshman All-American at full strength. In her first World Series start after a month of battling an injury, and at what her coach estimated was 60 percent of her normal self, Jordy Bahl’s energy was plenty.
And yet sparked by the irrepressible Jayda Coleman, the Sooners were even better in the field than at the plate or in the circle in the championship clincher.
They have the nation’s best freshman in Bahl, its best sophomore in Tiare Jennings and its best senior in all-time home run leader Jocelyn Alo, who may have received a record number of standing ovations in her final collegiate game. And arguably the biggest hit of the season came from a junior who will play for Team USA this summer. A hit that was a long time coming and richly deserved for Kinzie Hansen.
In all honesty, the Sooners long ago sucked the drama out of the season. But they replaced it with an excellence that was no less captivating. Whether or not they’re the best team of all time, or even the best Sooners of all time, they moved the sport forward. They dared others to meet their standard.
After the game, fighting back tears, some mix of joy, gratitude and exhaustion, Gasso searched for the words to explain the experience of being a part of something unparalleled and unmatched.
“You just watch,” Gasso said of moments in the dugout. “I sit back like a fan. That’s what I do. I sit and watch, and it’s just prideful to see these guys do that, to see them get emotional like I am right now.
“They don’t realize how good they are. Maybe I don’t realize how good they are.”
All those years ago, Gasso sat and watched the best teams in the nation come through Oklahoma City, sometimes rolling over her teams along the way. She realized exactly how good those Bruins and Wildcats were. She wondered how her program could compete, what that would look like if they did. It turned out, it looks a lot like Alo, Bahl, Coleman, Jennings and the rest.
“I just remember getting our rear ends kicked by Arizona over and over, ridiculous run-rule scores,” Gasso said recently. “I sat there, and I’m just looking at women versus girls. That’s what it felt like. It felt like women of Arizona versus girls of Oklahoma. I knew that my recruiting needed to change. I knew that we needed to get stronger. Arizona were just women – strong, fast, aggressive. I knew that was what I had to look for, and I had to elevate my recruiting.
“I knew as long as we were that far away from them, we would never be able to compete.”
All across the country tonight, as they have all season, coaches are trying to figure out how they can close a similar gap. How they can compete against the women of Oklahoma. So strong, so fast, so aggressive.
Good luck with that.
How it happened
Texas starter Estelle Czech, the lone pitcher the Sooners didn’t see in Game 1, did everything she could to give the Longhorns a foothold in the championship series. After giving up a leadoff hit to Jayda Coleman in the top of the first, she worked her way through the top of the lineup unscathed – despite the shaky-again Texas defense giving Oklahoma an extra out with an error.
The Sooners are tough to beat under any circumstances, but until the semifinals against UCLA, they were literally unbeatable for two seasons when they put up runs in the first inning.
Even more recently, of course, the Sooners scored in every inning in Game 1.
The best two-run deficit the Sooners will ever have
Making her first start in the World Series, Freshman of the Year Jordy Bahl didn’t look entirely comfortable even before she threw an official pitch. A muddy landing area in the pitcher’s circle required attention from the grounds crew before the bottom of the first inning. But the Longhorns made the freshman look even more ill at ease when the game resumed.
The first three batters reached base against Bahl, before back-to-back sacrifice flys from Alyssa Washington and Mary Iakopo gave Texas a 2-0 lead. In both cases, especially on Iakopo’s fly ball that Coleman tracked down on the warning track, it looked like the ball might leave the yard.
Then Courtney Day, who already had three home runs in OKC, hit a ball that did clear the fence in left-center. It just didn’t clear it by enough to escape a leaping Coleman. Sure to live on highlight clips for years to come, Coleman’s catch cut a potential four-run deficit in half and ended the inning.
“I was a little sick to my stomach for a second as I saw it getting some distance,” Gasso said of Day’s drive. “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.”
Under the circumstances, with a freshman in the circle (even a preternaturally gifted freshman), Oklahoma could hardly have come out feeling better about a rare two-run deficit.
“I have seen Jayda do that over and over and over in practice,” Bahl said. “But when it’s in a game and she has your back as well as everyone else on our defense, that stuff fires me up more than any strikeout ever will.”
Czech keeps battling
Oklahoma didn’t score in the first three innings for the first time in more than a month, since the final game of the regular season Bedlam series against Oklahoma State. Czech needed a little help in the second to keep the shutout intact, the Longhorns catching Jana Johns in a rundown between third and home after the Sooners had two runners in scoring position with one out.
Czech got additional help from her defense in the third on a nicely turned double play. But as was the case in the semifinals against Oklahoma State, the lefty also helped herself plenty.
Oklahoma defense picks up their freshman ace again
Can you be an overlooked All-American? Probably not. But Oklahoma’s Lyons is much more than the Ringo in Oklahoma’s quartet of first-team All-Americans this season. Having a relatively quiet WCWS at the plate as the third inning began Thursday, she let her glove to all the talking to start a double play that helped Bahl get out of another inning with runners on base.
“Not only is Oklahoma a great hitting team, they’re a great defensive team,” Texas coach Mike White said. “It’s hard to score runs.”
Longhorns give the Sooners too many chances
Czech bailed her defense out on its miscue in the first. That only works so many times against one of the best offenses in the sport’s history. And when the Longhorns again opened the door in the top of the fourth inning. the Sooners piled through the breach.
After Alyssa Brito led off the fourth with a double, Kinzie Hansen appeared to hit a routine grounder to third. But Mia Scott’s errant throw to first allowed Brito to race home all the way from second to put the Sooners on the board. Taylon Snow’s subsequent single brought home Hansen, who had advanced all the way to third on the error that brought home Brito.
To Texas’ credit, Janae Jefferson and Alyssa Washington then combined for the second double play of the night (and record-tying seventh of the WCWS) to keep things from getting out of hand and leave the score 2-2.
Coleman tries to rob for the cycle
After robbing Day of the home run, Coleman plucked a double of JJ Smith’s grasp in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Longhorns first baseman hit what looked like a certain double into the gap, but, well, see for yourself.
Kinzie Hansen puts a season of frustration behind her
Coleman’s throw felt like the sort of play that could trigger an Oklahoma avalanche. But Texas has a centerfielder, too. In the top of the fifth inning, Bella Dayton and Czech appeared to team up to get Texas through the top of the Oklahoma lineup for a third time. Almost.
Czech retired Coleman and Alo for the first two outs. No small feat. But there were still two more first-team All-Americans to go. And after Jennings singled and Lyons was hit by a pitch, Brito’s second double of the game drove in the go-ahead run for a 3-2 Sooners lead.
Not that the Sooners stopped there. They so rarely stopped at one this season. With two runners on base, Kinzie Hansen’s three-run home run extended the lead to 6-2. A first-team All-American a season ago and a member of Team USA this summer, Hansen battled injuries throughout a frustrating 2022 season. She competed for playing time behind the plate and hadn’t hit a home run since April 16. That happened to be the loss against Texas that ended Oklahoma’s record winning streak to start the season.
“I had a tough year,” Hansen said. “I got injured a couple of times. And then coming back mentally, it was really tough on me. But it’s not about me. That’s something that I really learned throughout this year – coming up and hitting that home run, these girls have been doing it all year when I wasn’t able to.”
It was a long and painful wait for her, but one that finally rewarded her dwindling patience.
The long ball, of course, seals the title
Remember the part about Lyons having a relatively quiet WCWS at the plate when she made her web gem early in Thursday’s game? It didn’t last.
Rylie Boone, Alo and Coleman loaded the bases to begin the top of the sixth, Jenning extended the lead to 7-2 with a sacrifice fly. Good, solid fundamental run production. And truth be told, if it wasn’t already settled, that run probably sealed the outcome on the night.
But this is Oklahoma, so there had to be an exclamation point. Lyons provided it with a three-run home run that extended the lead to 10-2.
Oklahoma finished the World Series with 17 home runs in six games, just two fewer home runs than the other seven teams combined to hit.
A pitching staff to the end
Oklahoma’s season started with a combined perfect game, Nicole May and Hope Trautwein finishing what Bahl started against UC Santa Barbara. They teamed up again Thursday. And if not quite perfect this time around, Mia Scott’s two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh bringing the Longhorns within five runs, they were more than good enough to be the best in the country.
Farewell to a Legend
After putting on a show worthy of her record with four home runs in the span of nine plate appearances across the semifinals and opening game of the championship series, Alo concluded her career without supplying any additional fireworks at the plate. In its own way, that worked out for the best
Once her teammates made sure the victory was in hand, Thursday became an opportunity for the crowd at Hall of Fame Stadium to put on a show for Alo instead of the other way around. Although Gasso joked that the Texas mini-rally convinced her she shouldn’t have listened to assistant coach and son J.T. Gasso about setting up an extended curtain call – sending Alo to the outfield for the first two outs of the final inning and then calling her back to the dugout – the scene was memorable.
She leaves with 122 career home runs, 27 more than any other player. For context, the NCAA record book only lists 21 instances of a Division I player hitting as many as 27 home runs in a season, along with four more instances this season. And that’s her lead over everyone else. Alo’s 34 home runs this season match her total from a season ago as the second-best single-season totals in NCAA history.
And yet from the influence on girls in her home state that was evident when she was able to break the career home run record in Hawaii to her influence on teammates and relationship with Sooners fans, she managed to carve out a legacy that went far beyond the numbers.
“I came into this game very stubborn and thought that it was all about me,” Alo said. “And I came in as a girl, and now I’m leaving as a woman. I’m just happy to be having that mentality going out into the real world – I’ll still be playing softball, though, so it’s all good. But I’m happy that just this coaching staff continues to trust in me and have molded me into the person and player that I am.
“I think that I’ve definitely left my mark. I’ve definitely enjoyed my five years, and I’m excited to see what the Sooner softball team does.”
“I’m just excited to see what little girl is going to work hard out there to come and break my record.”