Can Patty Gasso really claim parity?
On the eve of the World Series, the Oklahoma coach says it's anybody's national championship to win, though it would appear much of the field doesn't belong on the same diamond as Sooners
OKLAHOMA CITY — The password, or the buzzword, or just the word you’re bound to hear over and over again as soon as UCLA and Texas take Hall of Fame Stadium’s diamond to begin the 40th Women’s College World Series is “parity.”
“Parity. Parity, all around,” said Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, like she ought to know something about it.
It’s the word advocates for their sport love to throw around when there’s even a hint of it, because it’s a word that says, “Hey, our sport’s arrived, the talent’s finally spreading out, you ought to be watching us all the time.”
I didn’t cover the World Series until 2000, and still I’d just about bet my life on “parity” being bandied about two years prior, in ’98, when Fresno State claimed its only crown, an historic moment for Bulldog Nation, certainly, but more important to the game itself, interrupting a 10-year run in which softball’s national championship had bounced between only UCLA and Arizona, the Bruins and Wildcats each winning it five times from ’88 to ’97.
Well, there’s parity and then there’s parity and, just maybe, the latter of those two distinctions has arrived.
Oklahoma, No. 1 seed, is here, of course, but the No. 2 seed, Florida State, did not make it out of the Tallahassee Regional; the No. 3 seed, Virginia Tech, fell a few days ago in Blacksburg; the No. 4, Arkansas, could not get past Texas last weekend in Fayetteville, just as regional host Washington could not get past the Longhorns two weekends ago in Seattle.
Though UCLA, the No. 5, made it, the No. 6, Stanford, has not; nor has No. 8 Arizona State, falling in Tempe to Northwestern.
That’s not the half of it.
Nine of the Pac-12’s institutions play softball and Arizona, tied with Cal at the bottom of the standings, winner of 8 of 24 conference games, is here nonetheless, taking on Oklahoma State in Thursday’s late skirmish, which may conclude by midnight but very well may not.
One game in front of the Wildcats, Oregon State, winner of nine Pac-12 tussles, and loser of 10 straight from April 10 to May 1, is also here, first escaping No. 11 Tennessee in Knoxville and next grounding the Cardinal at Stanford.
It’s the word everybody grabs onto, selling their sport’s arrival, but maybe it’s the word the insane favorite tosses out there, too, trying to deflect even the tiniest bit of pressure and expectation.
Because if there’s one team no team appears to have achieved parity with it’s Gasso’s Sooners.
The defending champions are gunning for their fifth national championship since 2013 and incredibly lead the nation in hitting (.369), on-base percentage (.476) slugging (.731), runs per game (9.04) and earned run average (0.80), too, and still, there was the Oklahoma coach midday Wednesday explaining that her team “can’t get away with being mediocre this week,” and “we’ve got to be at our best.”
In five regional and super regional contests, the Sooners have won them all, three by run-rule, outscoring opponents 52-3.
Though Oklahoma’s two losses this season are owned by teams in the World Series field, Texas and Oklahoma State, in three games against their Red River rivals, the Sooners outscored the Longhorns 14-5 and in four contests against their in-state Bedlam rivals, the Sooners outscored the Cowgirls 21-8.
Is that parity?
Part of Texas coach Mike White’s explanation of how his team beat Oklahoma was this:
“They had their No. 1 pitcher throwing against us, it was a 0-0 game for a while and we were able to score a big hit at the right time, and Hailey [Dolcini] pitched one heck of a game and that’s what you have to do,” he said.
“It’s not always the best team that wins,” he said. “It’s the team that plays the best, and on that particular day, we played better than they did.”
The idea that might happen again, and more than once, seems unlikely.
The Sooners are 54-2.
That No. 1 pitcher, freshman phenom Jordy Bahl, hasn’t pitched since May 6 due to a forearm injury, yet Gasso said Wednesday, “You’re going to see her pitch this week.”
Gasso repeated, too, how she doesn’t believe her team’s been more on top of its game than right now.
So … parity?
Perhaps among UCLA, Texas, Oklahoma State, Northwestern, Florida, Oregon State and Arizona, but Oklahoma, too?
Is that even possible?
Leave it to Gasso, champion of the underdog, to explain.
“I look at … Arizona. They finished last in their conference, but they’re Arizona. They’ll always be Arizona,” she said. “… Oregon State, they’ve got a phenomenal pitcher that nobody even knows about, but you’ll know her now.
“Northwestern, phenomenal team. Scrappy … great pitcher … These are teams that nobody knows about, but we know who they are …
“It’s kind of that fresh, free, ‘Let’s go for it, we’ve got nothing to lose’ mentality. That’s what you’re seeing around the country right now, which makes for a pretty exciting World Series because any of the teams can win this, it’s not just two or three.”
Another team from Oklahoma, for instance?
“This team is ready,” Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski said. “[We’re] dialed in. I wish we could play today."
So maybe Gasso’s right.
Or maybe she’s just saying it.
Or maybe she knows, once or twice, her team was one of those teams, as it was in 2017, a 10-seed, and wound up winning it all; just as her team entered with only three losses the very next season and wound up out after four games, shut out twice by Washington.
Perhaps not on paper, but at Hall of Fame Stadium, the first week of June, not so many hours away, why not?
We should hope so, at least.
Thanks for reading Oklahoma Columnist, where we’re staying on the softball beat until a national champion is crowned. Subscribe for free.
1: Texas vs. UCLA, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
2: Northwestern vs. Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
3: Oregon State vs. Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
4: Arizona vs. Oklahoma State, 8:30 p.m.
5: Loser 1 vs. Loser 2, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
6: Loser 3 vs. Loser 4 (ESPN2)
7: Winner 1 vs. Winner 2, 2 p.m. (ABC)
8: Winner 3 vs. Winner 4, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
9: Winner 5 vs. Loser 8, 2 p.m. (ABC)
10: Winner 6 vs. Loser 7, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
11: Winner 7 vs. Winner 9, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
12: Winner 7 vs. Winner 9, 1:30 p.m., if necessary (ESPN)
13: Winner 8 vs. Winner 10, 6 6.m. (ESPN)
14: Winner 8 vs. Winner 10, 8:30 p.m., if necessary (ESPN)
Championship Series, Game 1, TBA (ESPN)
Thursday, June 9
Championship Series, Game 2, TBA (ESPN2)
Friday, June 10
Championship Series, Game 3, if necessary, TBA (ESPN)