The Sooners are amazing, but are they good for the sport? Not like they used to be, at least
Entering Norman Regional, it's hard to imagine how Oklahoma's kicked off its national championship perch before winning yet another crown
I don’t see how the Sooners get beat, even as history tells us they probably will.
Oklahoma lost to Oddici Alexander and James Madison before rebounding to win the 2021 Women’s College World Series and fell to UCLA last season before rebounding to repeat as national champion.
If you can believe it, the Sooners opened the 2017 NCAA draw losing to North Dakota State and were six outs from being eliminated by Tulsa before topping the Golden Hurricane in 10 innings and beating them again just to get from the Norman Regional to the Norman Super Regional.
Of course, they wound up winning the national championship, their second straight after claiming the 2016 WCWS over Auburn despite the Tigers grabbing the middle game of the championship series.
But I don’t see how OU loses this year because I’ve found yet another way to quantify their diamond dominance.
Sunday evening, of course, the Sooners were again made the No. 1 overall seed by the NCAA’s selection committee.
At 4 p.m. Friday, OU (51-1, 18-0 Big 12) takes on Hofstra (19-25, 16-7 Colonial), opening the Norman Regional before Missouri (34-24, 7-17 SEC) meets Cal (33-19, 9-14-1 Pac-12) soon after.
The Nos. 2 and 3 overall seeds?
UCLA and Florida State.
The Sooners met the Bruins on Feb. 26, the final day of the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., one weekend after taking their only loss of the season to Baylor, in Waco, at the Getterman Classic.
OU run-ruled UCLA 14-0 in five innings.
On March 14, the Seminoles met OU in Norman and though they lost only 5-4, they did it by throwing four different pitchers at the Sooners even as the circle changes were not dictated by how each pitcher was faring, only because FSU’s strategy was to not let OU’s lineup see the same pitcher twice.
A novel approach.
Also, Sooner starter Alex Storako gave up four earned runs in four innings that day, 40 percent of the earned runs she’s allowed all season and when’s that going to happen again?
So I just can’t see it.
OU leads the nation in every meaningful category: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, earned run average and fielding percentage to name five.
Yes, the Sooners could lose.
But should they, even once, nobody will have seen it coming and nobody will see it happening again, which leads to the point of all this:
So good, so dominant, so loaded, so apparently better by miles and miles than its nearest challenger, is OU bad for the sport?
A good case can be made it is.
Coach Patty Gasso’s program won its first World Series in 2000, topping UCLA in the then-one-game-only championship game.
That victory ended an 18-season run in which 14 WCWS crowns went to UCLA (9) and Arizona (5), while only two were claimed by non-California programs, both to Texas A&M in 1983 and ’87.
No doubt, at that time, what OU did was great for the sport, infiltrating the West Coast’s stranglehold on the grand prize.
Not that it held.
Arizona, Cal and UCLA (twice) won the next four titles before Michigan grabbed one in 2005, only for Arizona (twice), Arizona State (twice), Washington and UCLA to combine on the next six.
Then Alabama topped OU in the rain in 2012. Then OU topped Tennessee in 2013. Then Florida won two straight before OU won two more, all off which was great for the game.
But should the Sooners make it a three-peat this season, it will be just the second since softball moved within the NCAA’s umbrella in 1982 and the other time it happened was UCLA from 1988-90, long before it became a true national sport.
Nor will it be the simple fact OU’s hogging national championships, but that it’s hardly being challenged.
The last time the Sooners weren’t the NCAA’s No. 1 overall seed was 2018 when they were No. 7 and Oregon No. 1.
This marks the second straight year OU’s suffered but one regular-season loss. Meanwhile, UCLA’s lost five times and Florida State eight.
And when the Sooners delve into the transfer portal, they don’t just go looking for a bat or an arm that might help, because who wants only that?
Instead, they get Storako, the Big 10’s pitcher of the year in 2021 and No. 1 pick in the recent Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft.
Or they get Haley Lee, who hit .405 and clubbed 15 home runs as a Texas A&M senior, but with eligibility remaining, last season.
Or they get Cydney Sanders, who clubbed 21 home runs, hit .425 and slugged .952 as an Arizona State freshman last season.
Along with Alynah Torres, another Arizona State transfer, that’s four starters the Sooners just pulled out of the transfer portal.
In the not-so-old days, Gasso would have had to restock through the high schools and jucos, but now she has some of the nation’s very best players seeking out her program out after originally choosing another program.
Looking at it that way, it’s easy to forgive Texas coach Mike White, who wondered aloud how on earth the Sooners keep stockpiling talent, leading many to believe he was insinuating real skullduggery.
Maybe he was, but he didn’t have to be, because the way the system’s constructed, turning history of all things on its head, reaching the softball mountaintop is now the hardest part, yet staying there, perhaps, not so much.
What Gasso’s program’s done since 2012, reaching seven best two-of-three WCWS championship series and winning five national championships is indeed off the charts amazing. Also, somebody else, or several somebody elses, kicking it off that mountaintop for two, three or four years will create the sport’s next big boom, when a small dose of parity returns.
It’s high drama and a bit controversial.
The Sooners have gone from crashing the party to becoming the party’s bouncers, keeping newcomers — and others once dominant — from getting (back) through the door.
Can they do it again?
I don’t see how they can’t.
But it might not be best for the game.
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