Best softball team ever? Maybe
Sooners punch their World Series ticket, coaches' comments paint a more dominant Sooner team than we may have previously imagined
Cindy Ball-Malone, whose Central Florida squad was not embarrassed Saturday afternoon at Marita Hynes Field but was a 7-1 loser nonetheless, offered something interesting and scary about Oklahoma, now on its way to a seventh straight Women’s College World Series.
“They’re dynamic,” she said. “Some teams that we face, we’re able to kind of find their weakness at that dime of day, but this team, they just make adjustments.
"They make adjustments within at bats. They make adjustments, gosh, pitch to pitch, super fast.”
You can see a lot on the diamond if you pay attention, yet whatever Ball-Malone saw was so, so, so deep in the trees, buried in the Sooners' forest.
Did she see OU’s hitters quit looking fastball and start looking for breaking pitches the moment she’d dial up a curve from on of the three pitchers she sent to the circle?
Did she see Sooner feet shift in the box, stances opening and closing ever so slightly, or moving up, in inch or two here, and back, an inch or two there, in accordance with the count?
She didn’t get that far.
Nor did the Sooner sluggers brought into the interview room, Jocelyn Alo and Grace Lyons, three home runs between them, tell.
Yet, whatever Ball-Malone saw, presuming she saw something and it’s not just something a coach says after running into a just-too dominant opponent — unlikely, given the “gosh” she uttered — it adds another level to the consideration the Sooners must be given as absolute all-timers, perhaps the best collegiate team in the history of the sport.
Because the conventional wisdom on OU, beginning, perhaps, with the 2017 national championship, a point in the program’s history that begat an even better team the following season, one that lost just three games before reaching a World Series it ultimately did not win because sometimes the best team just doesn’t win, has been that it’s like Connecticut women’s basketball at its highest heights, or Alabama football.
It just has the best players.
Yes, Patty Gasso’s a superb coach, but the reward for her success, winning three national championships between 2013 and 2017 has been her team never having to be the little engine that could any more, but an absolute dominant machine that wins dang near every game it plays before the first pitch is thrown, its talent level simply too high to match.
But what if it’s all that AND what Ball-Malone described?
As the great John Brooks used to say, calling Sooner football and basketball for much of the 70s, all of the 80s and a bit of the 90s, "Jimmmmmminy Christmas!!!"
History tells us OU will still have to win tight games beginning Thursday at Hall of Fame Stadium to claim the program’s sixth, second straight and fifth national championship since 2013.
Yet the way it's navigated the regular season, NCAA regional and super regional play, it makes you wonder.
Saturday’s clincher was not the quick run-rule blowout we’ve seen so many times before, nor was it like one of the 11 of 56 contests the Sooners have endured decided by four runs or less.
It was death by a thousand cuts.
It was relentless and complete, happening to the Knights in agonizing slow motion.
UCF starting pitcher Kama Woodall retired Alo in the first inning and pitched around two hits and two walks to give up only a run. It was a small victory and still it was no template for success, because OU would go on to score at least a run in five of the seven innings.
Though the Knights held down the fort, all they did was fall further and further behind.
Sooner pitcher Nicole May went the distance, allowed just three hits and the only time it got dicey, in the bottom of the third inning, walking Denali Schappacher with one out to bring up the Knights’ two most dangerous hitters, Jada Cody and Shannon Doherty, she came through strong.
Cody blasted a foul ball that might have traveled closer to 300 than 200 feet, wide of the left-field foul pole and for just a moment it looked like UCF might have a real inning in it.
Instead, a few pitches later, May had struck out both Knight sluggers and that was that.
Cody led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a solo home run, but it was no reflection on May, who’s supposed to challenge hitters with a 7-0 lead.
Gasso repeated some of what she said after Friday’s 8-0 run-rule, only more emphatically, with more certainty.
“I feel the best I’ve felt about this team right now,” she said. “We’ve gone through a lot of expectations and pressure and all the other things that come along with being No. 1 … We don’t wish it upon us, we don’t get upset, we just play. We just stay in our circle, or our bubble, and it’s tight.”
The Sooners were unbeaten most of the season, but it’s only now their coach sees them rounding into form.
Is that really possible?
“Tight” is one word for it.
Well, almost … 54 of 56 thus far, a few to go to make more history.
Here at Oklahoma Columnist, we’re sticking to the softball beat until a national championship is crowned. All it takes is your e-mail.
In case you missed it
Sooner dominance hardly fair, April 9
How good are the Knights, May 27