By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – Patti Gasso kept running and back peddling. A veteran of the ritual Gatorade showers, the Oklahoma skipper saw her players coming at her with the bucket filled with the thirst-quenching liquid, and she did her best to avoid them using a few moves normally seen on the gridiron.
But much like her Sooners once they got to the Women’s College World Series, the inevitable was bound to happen. Gasso was doused with Gatorade as No. 10 Oklahoma celebrated winning the 2017 softball national championship with a 5-4 victory over No. 1 Florida Tuesday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I don’t know who got me,” Gasso said. “I started to see them surround me, so I just surrendered and took it, but it feels good. Feels great. It feels great.”
The title was the second in a row for the Sooners, third since 2013 and fourth in program history.
Entering the WCWS, Oklahoma and Florida ( 61-9) had accounted for the past four national championships. This year would be the tie-breaker with the winner being able to lay claim a dynasty. That honor now goes to OU (58-10).
“I mean, it’s a blessing. It’s an indescribable feeling to win another national championship,” OU captain Kelsey Arnold said. “I just want to let you all know that my teammates are leaders along with me. It’s not just me by myself, and I believe that when we all came together, power of three, that’s what you saw.”
Unlike Game 1 of the Championship Series, it didn’t take the Sooners long to get their first run on the scoreboard. Lead off hitter Nicole Mendes made sure of that by blasting a solo homer on the third pitch of the game from Aleshia Ocasio.
“During my first at-bat, I just knew that I really wanted to get the momentum going, and whatever way it was, with a bunt, with a slap, with a hit, it didn’t matter, but I just wanted to show my team that I was there for them and that I knew that they had my back,” Mendes said. “It just so happened to go over.”
Because the Gators top two hurlers threw more than 100 pitches each Monday night, coach Tim Walton decided to go with his third pitcher, Ocasio.
The Sooners did the exact opposite. Even though Paige Parker also tossed more than 100 pitches in Monday’s 17 inning instant classic, she got the start in Game 2.
Parker had a rough start and gave up two quick runs before being pulled for freshman Mariah Lopez, who surrendered a run before getting out of the inning with Oklahoma trailing 3-1.
The Sooners stormed right back when Shay Knighten hit a 3-run double in the bottom of the second to give Oklahoma a 5-3 advantage. Gators cut it to one run deficit going into the final innings.
Both teams went through a variety of of different pitchers. The Sooners had to bring Mendes in from the outfield to pitch the fifth. But after Mendes allowed a baserunner in the sixth, Paige Lowray was brought and she shut the book on the Gators.
Oklahoma is the lowest seed to ever win the Women’s College World Series. While many believed the Sooners were under-seeded, Gasso says for part of the season her team was not playing like they were worthy of even making it to the tournament.
Even when they got to the regional round and lost the opener to North Dakota State, they were three outs from seeing their season coming to an end. But at the moment, the Sooners remembered who they were and what they are about and won their next four elimination games.
“It was everything.,” Gasso said. “I want to send them a thank you card for waking us up, and they did. And that scare is almost what we needed to step forward and say we’re not going home, not on our field. We’re not going home.”
Knighten was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after coming up with the game-winning hits in Game 1 and 2 of the cnhampionship series.
“Being in those moments, I’ve just got to keep myself calm, just stay relaxed and just kind of not think about what if, just kind of go for it,” Knighten said. “And it paid off, but I just wanted to do everything for my team, and to finish this way is really cool.”
Parker, Mendes and Lowray joined Knighten on the All-Tournament team.
The Sooners only loose one senior from its starting lineup. So their run has a chance to go for a few more seasons.
Before then, the Sooners still have some celebrating to do.
“Words cannot express — I still cannot believe that this happened, with where we started and where we finished,” Gasso said. “There’s so many stories. The journey was unbelievable. I think if you looked at us in February and March, even parts of April, you would never imagine us sitting here right now with trophies in front of us.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com