The Oklahoma softball celebrates the program’s third national championship after beating Auburn 2-1 Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – Right before the postseason began, Oklahoma had one of its most important competitions. Away from the spot light of the cameras and fans, the competitive Sooners had a bake off.
Sophomore pitcher Paige Parker was the favorite going in, but her cupcakes were beat out by the Monkey Bread of Erin Miller. Parker didn’t take the loss well.
Fast forward to late Wednesday night and Oklahoma had just capped an amazing season with a 2-1 victory over Auburn to win the Women’s College World Series at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. As Parker was walking to the champions press conference, she overheard someone asking about the baking contest. Even as she was enjoying the crowing moment of the Sooner’s incredible season, Parker was still in disbelief about the outcome of the baking contest.
“I don’t know how I didn’t win,” Parker said.
It’s that same competitive nature of not wanting to lose in anything that may have been the key ingredient that carried Parker through the championship series when she wasn’t at full strength. But that was enough for the Sooners (57-8) to climb on the Missouri native’s back on their way to claiming the 2016 National Championship.
“So I just kind of took myself to another level and just went into another gear, and I was willing to do whatever I had to to help this team win,” Parker said.
Parker (38-3) pitched seven innings, allowed five hits and one run. She also struck out five batters while only walking one. Coach Patty Gasso’s decision to rest her Tuesday in a Game 2 loss seemed to pay off.
“When I talked to her on Tuesday morning after an ice bath, I think it was at a third of a tank, which is not enough to beat that team,” Gasso said. “And if we would have tried and put her out there, even in the third when we had a lead, I don’t know that – my heart is with this kid first, and to put her in a non-winning potential situation, I couldn’t do that because she helped us get here. So it was, you know, we’re going to do the best we can to win that game on Tuesday, give her rest.”
With the game in the balance, once again the Sooners looked to Parker to close out the night. In the top of the seventh inning she faced the bottom of the Tigers lineup and struck out Madi Gipson before getting Whitney Jordan to fly out.
Courtney Shea came in to pinch hit for Victoria Draper. After a battle in which Shea fouled off pitch after pitch, she grounded out to end the game.
The Sooners then proceeded to dog pile Parker in the pitcher’s circle and the celebration began. Their fans soon joined in.
Oklahoma not only ends its season with the program’s third nation title, but also an amazing run of dropping only one game in their last 33 outings. That included a 31 game win streak.
“I felt our team definitely took the hard road through this,” Gasso said. “We had to open up with Alabama, and that was a very tough game, and then on to — who did we play next? Michigan, LSU. We played some of the best in the country, so I definitely feel like this team earned every second of our success because they played from the first pitch to the last.”
Oklahoma’s first run of the game came on back to back errors from Auburn second baseman Emily Carosone. After misplaying a grounder, she threw the ball away. It allowed OU to score.
Fale Aviu then hit a slow roller to shortstop Whitney Jordan and beat the throw to first as Shay Knighten scored from third. OU had a quick 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers waited until the third inning to try and strike back. They loaded the bases with no outs against Parker. They not only had a chance to take the lead, but put some pressure on Oklahoma.
However, Parker reached back and struck out Carosone before getting Carlee Wallace to hit into an inning ending double play.
In the fourth inning, Jade Rhodes finally struck for the Tigers when she blasted a solo homer to left field. It was her third round-tripper of the tournament and cut OU’s lead down to 2-1.
That would be the only run the Sooners would allow one night after giving up 11 to the same squad.
The softball team joins Oklahoma’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams in winning national championships this year. Throw in the OU football team and men’s basketball team making it to the Final Four of their respective sports, it’s easy to see why senior Erin Miller was so emotional after her final game in an Oklahoma uniform.
“We have something that a lot of programs don’t, and that’s Sooner tradition,” Miller said. “This university is something incredible, and I think anyone that’s a part of it could say that. As a senior, I can’t thank our fans enough. Playing here has been the greatest four years of my life.”
Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com