Oklahoma Softball: It’s Done! Raise the Banner


Oklahoma softball has finished the improbable journey and done what know one inside or outside of the Sooner program expected when the journey began four months ago.

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The Sooners closed out the 2016 season winning 32 of their last 33 games, the last of which on Wednesday night won for them the Women’s College World Series and with it the NCAA Division I national championship in softball.

Oklahoma ace Paige Parker returned to the pitching circle for the Sooners on Wednesday night in the winner-take-all third game of the WCWS championship series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. Sooner head coach Patty Gasso gambled by holding Parker out of Game 2 so she would be rested should the series come down to a deciding game three.

Auburn rallied from a 7-0 deficit in the opening two innings of Game 2, scoring five runs of its own in the second inning and two more in the fourth to knot the score at seven all. That is the way things stood until the bottom of the eighth inning when Auburn’s Emily Carsosone delivered a grand-slam home run, giving the Tigers an 11-7 come from behind victory. More importantly, the Auburn win on Tuesday deadlocked the championship series at one game each and forced a deciding third game.

With the win on Tuesday, Auburn snapped Oklahoma’s 31-game winning streak, and it also represented the first time this year’s NCAA postseason that the Sooners had trailed in a game.

Gasso called her decision to hold Parker out of Game 2 in the championship series the most difficult decision she has ever had to make as the Sooners head coach. The OU coach may have struggled mightily with that decision, but in hindsight, it now looks prophetic, because Parker was indeed the difference maker in Oklahoma’s win in the championship finale.

As they have all season long, the Sooners got on the board early in Game 3, scoring two first-inning runs on a pair of errors by the Auburn defense and a run-scoring single by OU’s Fale Aviu, one of four freshman in the Sooner starting lineup.

It turned out that was all the country’s best softball pitcher this season and two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year needed in holding the Tigers to five hits and striking out five in leading Oklahoma to a 2-1 win and the program’s third NCAA softball national championship.

The win by the Sooners didn’t come as easily as the final score might indicate, though. In the top half of the third inning, Auburn loaded the bases with no one out and had its best opportunity all night to erase the Sooners’ two-run lead and break the game wide open.

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The Tigers came up empty, though, as Parker struck out the Tigers’ Carosone, one in the same who delivered the game-winning blow in Game 2, and then got clean-up hitter Carlee Wallace to hit into a double play, ending the threat and the inning.

Auburn senior Jade Rhodes  brought the Tigers within a run of the Sooners with a solo home run in the fourth inning, but that was the lone tally they would get off of Parker, who posted her 38th win of the season against just three losses, and her 28th consecutive win in the same number of appearances. The OU ace is 40-0 over two seasons when the Sooners have entrusted her with a lead of at least two runs.

It is no big surprise that Parker was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 Women’s College World Series. The OU sophomore was 10-0 this postseason, including wins in Games 1 and 3 of the WCWS, and struck out 58 batters in the Sooners’ 10 postseason victories.

Oklahoma becomes only the third school in NCAA history to win three national championships in softball. All three have come during Gasso’s time at OU (2000, 2013 and 2016). Of Oklahoma’s three national championship teams, this year’s group was probably the least likely to have gone this far.

The Sooners finished the season with a record of 57-8, the fourth most wins in program history. Auburn, making its first appearance in the WCWS championship series, was 58-12 this season.

With just two seniors in the Sooners’ starting lineup (outfielders Erin Miller and Kady Self) and a roster heavy with freshman and sophomores, you can expect Oklahoma softball to be among the nation’s best teams and make another championship run again in 2017.

But for right now, you can be assured the Sooners are going to enjoy the moment and the fruits of their collective effort. They rightly deserve it.