Sooner Softball Streak Is Over, But Not a Sure Shot at WCWS Title


It has been a long time since this season’s sensational Sooner softball team has suffered a loss, but that loss will quickly be forgotten if Oklahoma wins the next one and with it the 2016 Women’s College World Series.

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Everyone has been wondering how this young Oklahoma team would react to losing, having not experienced such adversity in more than 60 days and 31 consecutive games. On Wednesday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, we will learn the answer to pivotal question.

In the end on Tuesday night, in Game 2 of this year’s WCWS between the Sooners and the Auburn Tigers, it was about two long balls: a bases-clearing, walk-off home run by Auburn in the bottom of the eighth inning and what easily could have been a game-winning home run by Oklahoma that cleared the fence but was snagged and pulled back into play for a long out in the top of the sixth.

Those two game-changing plays were the final difference in the game as the Tigers overcame a seven-run second-inning deficit, scoring 11 unanswered runs to turn back Oklahoma 11-7 and force a deciding third game to determine the 2016 national champion in softball.

With OU head coach Patty Gasso deciding to sit ace pitcher Paige Parker – in hopes that she would be rested and ready should a third game be necessary – it appeared early on that Oklahoma was going to run away and leave its SEC opponent in its wake on the way to a third national championship and its 32nd consecutive victory.

But Auburn refused to give in after falling behind early on Tuesday night. The No. 4-seeded Tigers responded to the Sooners’ six-run, second-inning outburst with five runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame, all coming after two were out, to get right back in the game.

Auburn third baseman Kasey Cooper unloaded a two-run shot over the right center-field fence in the fifth inning, her 21st home-run blast of the season, to bring the Tigers all the way back and tie the score at seven all.

Oklahoma collected six of its ten hits in the first two innings, but managed only four more hits the rest of the way. In the top of the sixth inning after two were out, Caleigh Clifton singled bringing the Sooners’ offensive star of the postseason, Shay Knighton, to the plate. The freshman first baseman squared up a pitch from Auburn’s Rachel Walters and brought the Sooner faithful to their feet as the ball took deep flight toward the left-field fence.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here, and that is a good place to feel when you’re here. We’re taking that momentum, and we’re going to do everything we can with it.” —Patty Gasso, Sooner head coach

Just as the yellow sphere appeared destined to drop over the wall and put the Sooners back on top by a couple of runs, the Tigers’ Howard made what turned out to be the defensive play of the game, snaring from over the fence what easily could a game- and series-winner for Oklahoma.

So now, the pressure sits clearly on the shoulders of the young Sooner team. But does it, really? No one expected this freshman- and sophomore-heavy OU roster to produce like it has this season, especially over the second half of the season when the Sooners’ have appeared seemingly invincible.

“We’ve never talked about the streak,” head coach Patty Gasso said in the postgame press conference after losing Game 2 of the WCWS and ending the Sooners 31-game winning streak. “What I know is that we’re not supposed to be here. I don’t think anyone expected us to be here.

“We aren’t down,” she continued. “This team comes back like vengeance when somebody beats them, and they know it and I know it.”

Both teams are extremely confident coming into the deciding third game. How would you not be if you are Oklahoma, knowing that you have come out victorious in 38 of your last 40 games. And for Auburn, having beaten the mighty Sooners, and in the fashion in which they did it in coming back from seven runs down, instills in the Tigers the firm belief that they’ve done it once and can do it again.

Like the Sooners, Auburn believes it is never out of a game. Multiple times in the postseason, and again in this WCWS, the Tigers have come back to win in their last at bat.

Sitting arguably the nation’s best pitcher in OU’s Parker was a gamble on Gasso’s part. But you also must keep in mind that the Sooners’ sophomore ace had thrown every pitch in Oklahoma’s nine postseason games coming into Tuesday night’s contest, including four consecutive days in the WCWS.

O.K., let’s all agree that with Auburn turning back the Sooners on Tuesday night, the gamble to rest Parker did not pan out. Now, with that out of the way, let me remind you that Gasso’s difficult decision not to pitch her ace in Tuesday’s game was not as much about Game 2 as it was about having a rested Parker ready to go should it all come down to a deciding Game 3.

It won’t be until after the winner-take-all final game on Wednesday night that we will be able to say for sure whether the gamble paid off or not.

Something tells me that we are going to see a battle to the finish. But when all the dust and confetti start to settle from the victory celebration, I expect Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso and her resilient and fearless Sooner softball team to proudly accept the championship trophy.