Come for the Sooner victory, stay for nine full innings of softball fabulousness
Extra frames, a pitcher on the verge of taking over the sport, second-guessable decisions and one, maybe two things, you've never ever seen. It was a day.
OKLAHOMA CITY — If you read this and you’re a partisan, the best thing about Oklahoma’s 4-2 nine-inning Monday afternoon Women’s College World Series victory over Stanford is clear.
The Sooners won.
They’re back in the WCWS championship series, facing Florida State two years after coming back from a game down to top the Seminoles for the 2021 crown, a national championship that may soon become the first of three straight and the third of five claimed between 2016 and Thursday or Friday.
If you bleed crimson and cream, congrats, you’re right where you thought you’d be and where you should be, too, this OU team in line to become the best squad ever because if it finishes with just the one loss, how can it not be?
But if that’s not you.
If you don’t bleed crimson and cream and the Sooners’ embarrassment of softball riches has become a little old and, gee whiz, when will somebody challenge them?
Even then, you still had to love the Sooners and Cardinal, because it was so fun, so classic, so interesting and, as long as NiJaree Canady’s on the Stanford roster, foreshadowing, too.
The best thing about it for me?
Top of the seventh, 2-2, Alynah Torres with a leadoff double off Canady and OU coach Patty Gasso directs nine-hole hitter Rylie Boone to put down a bunt and move Avery Hodge, pinch-running for Torres, to third base.
It was the right call.
The Sooners needed just a run, not three or four. Get Hodge to third with one out and you’re going to have a hard time not winning.
So here’s what happened.
Rather than get the bunt down, Boone got it up just enough to elude the outstretched arm of the shallow and charging Sydney Steele, Stanford’s third baseman, yet back down to earth well in front of shortstop Emily Young.
A clean bunt single.
More, because Hodge had to freeze in anticipation of Steele grabbing it and had to freeze again against the possibility of running into Young’s tag, she never advanced.
They say in baseball, and by extension, softball, too, despite more games played and watched than all the other sports, each one holds the promise of something previously never seen and Boone’s bunt, for some, was a twofer.
One, who’s ever seen a bunt come to ground between a third baseman and shortstop, thereby becoming an infield hit?
Two, who’s ever seen, with a runner at second base, a bunt single that fails to advance that runner?
For diamond aficionados, it was Christmas come early.
SO THERE’S THAT!!
Also, the rest.
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Not just the extra frames.
Nor so many tense moments.
Nor the theatre of the not-supposed-to-be-there Cardinal against the perennially and impossibly dominant Sooners.
But the decisions, too.
In the press box, after three innings, I began waiting for Stanford coach Jessica Allister to go get starting pitcher Alana Vawter and bring Canady to the circle; because, though Vawter is a great pitcher, Canady may be the tournament’s and nation’s best pitcher.
After three, it was 2-2 and Gasso appeared ready to keep Jordy Bahl on the bench, saving her for the following if-necessary game should it become necessary.
Against that backdrop, the chance Canady might keep OU down for four frames, while Nicole May or a relieving Alex Storako might not keep Stanford down over the same span seemed plausible and any chance to plausibly beat the Sooners should be taken.
The way it worked out, Canady entered in the fifth, inheriting a baserunner with nobody out. That runner, Boone, did not cross so if Allister was tardy, she got away with it.
Gasso had to make decisions, too.
In the seventh, after Boone failed to sacrifice, collecting her bunt single instead, OU still had a runner at second base and still nobody out.
She sent Boone to sacrifice, but how about Jayda Coleman, who entered hitting .423.
Canady fell behind 3-0 but ran the count back full before Coleman popped out and the Sooners were soon retired.
In the ninth, Grace Lyons having led off with a double and, again, Torres at the plate, Gasso did not call for a sacrifice that, if executed, would have put the bat in Boone’s hand to bring her home.
Instead, both Torres and Boone grounded out, Coleman was intentionally walked, which seemed reasonable, putting the force at every base but home, and Tiare Jennings, 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to that moment, lashed the double that won the game.
OU has won 51 straight, appears headed toward the program’s seventh national championship and, still, despite it all working out … doesn’t Gasso have to bunt there?
Perhaps that’s part of what made the whole thing so fabulous.
The game went long.
Canady again announced her looming presence over the sport, shutting OU down for 4 2/3 innings two days after also shutting OU down for 4 2/3 innings.
Come to think of it, great hitters hitting the portal, if you’ve got the grades, maybe give Stanford a look because NiJaree Canady’s bringing the Cardinal back to OKC.
Coaches of two of the last four teams standing chose paths entirely capable of being second-guessed forever.
Even something, maybe two things, you’ve never seen before.
And when it ended, it was Bahl, having entered in the sixth, in the circle, again, netting her third win in three games, yet to give up a run, like she’s Jennifer Stewart or Keilani Ricketts or Paige Parker or something.
Yeah, OU won.
That was just the beginning.