Sooner Softball ‘Team’ Mantra Should Bode Well as OU Goes From Good to Great


Contrary to popular belief – and at the risk of being vilified for even thinking this – this year’s Sooner softball team was not as good as other Sooner national championship squads and perhaps not as good as other OU teams that have made it to the Women’s College World Series.

O.K., now that I have put this on the table, let me elaborate on what I mean by this declaration. The Sooners lost some exceptionally talented seniors off of the 2015 Big 12 championship squad. Laurean Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley were two of the best players in the country, and head coach Patty Gasso knew they would be difficult to replace.

Oklahoma began the 2016 season with freshmen representing almost half of its roster. If you include four sophomores to the mix, the number of first- and second-year players totaled 12 of the 18-person roster. This is not to say that the new players were not highly rated, talented prospects coming in, but candidly they were not of the experience level that you would expect of a team seeking to return to the postseason for a seventh consecutive season and to the Women’s College World Series for a fifth time in six seasons.

To be perfectly honest, no one outside of the student athletes themselves, in their wildest dreams, expected this team to end up where it did on Wednesday night, proudly hoisting a national championship trophy for all to see.

Expectations clearly were not sky high when the 2016 season got underway the second weekend in February. They were guarded at best. And you could understand why after the Sooners lost their first two games (to Washington and Minnesota) and four of their first 12.

By the time April Fool’s Day rolled around, Oklahoma was doing better. OU’s record at that point in time was a highly respectable 26-6 and the Sooners were ranked in the nation’s top 15. The next day, the Sooners suffered their seventh loss of the season, losing at home to the Kansas Jayhawks.

“Our freshman absolutely stepped up. They played like veterans the entire year. They’re going to do some amazing things in the years to come.” —Erin Miller, OU senior

What came next, no one could have expected. Oklahoma would not experience another loss for 31 consecutive games. From April 3 until the second game of the Women’s College World Series against Auburn, the Sooners rolled to a nation’s-best 31-0 record and a perfect 5-0 record in the postseason regional and super-regional rounds, landing them a 10th all-time appearance in the WCWS.

“A lot of people talked about us being young, and we never let that give us any reason for excuse” Gasso told reporters after the Sooners’ WCWS-clinching victory on Wednesday.

“Our mantra for the year was team,” said Erin Miller, one of two seniors in the Oklahoma starting lineup. “We lost some really good seniors, and we weren’t going to let that defeat us. I think this team really took that upon themselves to prove to the nation that we can do it without those big names.

“Our freshman absolutely stepped up,” the Sooner right fielder said. “They played like veterans the entire year. They’re going to do some amazing things in the years to come.”

About the decision to rest Paige Parker, the Sooners’ pitching ace, for Game 2 of the WCWS so she would be better rested for a Game 3, Gasso said: “I think Paige would tell you, when she threw the first game against Auburn, her tank was about half full. So to be half full and beating them. that’s pretty big because they’re just a very, very good offense.”

The OU head coach suggested that her ace pitcher was probably at 75 percent when she took the circle in Wednesday’s deciding game and that the adrenaline push probably elevated her to about 85 to 90 percent.

Gasso could not say enough about Parker’s gutty and determined performance in securing the championship for the Sooners.

“Tonight was a tribute to a great pitching performance (that) shut down a very potent offense and a defense that made incredible plays behind her,” Gasso said, adding, “Thank you, Paige (Parker) for filling your gas tank.”