Oklahoma softball: Sooners snubbed in ESPY ‘Best Team’ category

Oklahoma celebrates the Women's College World Championship over Florida State at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June, 8, 2023.
Oklahoma celebrates the Women's College World Championship over Florida State at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June, 8, 2023. /

The 2023 ESPN ESPY Awards this week featured 27 different award categories, and Oklahoma softball was represented in two of them.

Hollywood, California, the epicenter for glitz and glamor, seemed like a most fitting setting for the annual awards program, which honors the best individual and team athletic performances of the past year in both professional and amateur ranks.

The 2023 national championship Oklahoma softball team was one of seven nominated in the ‘Best Team” category and the Sooners’ star pitcher on that team, Jordy Bahl, was a nominee for “Best Athlete, Women’s Sports.”

The Sooners came up empty handed in both award categories, but the one that hurt the most was the one for Best Team, which probably should have been renamed “Most Popular Sports Team.” The ESPY winners are chosen through an online fan vote, which is understandably highly subjective.

As in sports themselves, the best team doesn’t always win in whatever competition, but especially so when fans are left to determine the outcome.

The Kansas City Chiefs, 2023 Super Bowl champions, were the choice of the fans as the Best Team this past fiscal sports year. Given the wild popularity of the NFL and of Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it is pretty easy to see why the Chiefs would come out ahead in this category.

Let’s face it, softball in general, and Oklahoma Sooner softball in particular, is never going to win a popularity vote for Best Sports Team across all sports. But based on pure merit and what the OU softball women collectively and individually achieved this season, an extremely compelling argument can be made that The Sooners were the best team in the category.

We do not know if OU softball finished second or wherever in the fan vote in a highly competitive category that also included the national champion Georgia Bulldogs football team, the NBA champion Denver Nuggets, the NHL Stanley Cup champion Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the NCAA women’s champion LSU Tigers.

But you tell me if any of the other nominees for Best Sports Team accomplished what Oklahoma softball did this year:

  • The difference between Oklahoma finishing a perfect 62-0 and 61-1 (both unprecedented marks in the history of college softball) was a one-run loss to Baylor.
  • The Sooners won their third consecutive NCAA championship this year, one of just two teams to ever do that in NCAA Division I softball and the last time it was done was 35 years ago (UCLA 1988-90).
  • Oklahoma finished the season on an NCAA record 53-game winning strong. The previous record, held by Arizona, was 47 games.
  • The Sooners led all of college softball this season in winning percentage, scoring average per game, batting average, staff pitching ERA, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, shutouts and fielding percentage. No NCAA team has ever finished first nationally in scoring average, batting average, ERA and fielding percentage in the same season.
  • And there should be little argument that the Sooners had the best head coach (Patty Gasso) leading the best team in sports this year.

Jordy Bahl, Oklahoma pitching ace and Most Outstanding Player in the 2023 Women’s College World Series, was a nominee in the College Athlete, Women’s Sports category. That award went to Iowa basketball star Caitin Clark. Former Sooner quarterback Caleb Williams was the winner of the ESPY in the male category.

Regardless of the outcome, Sooner fans know what the Best Team in Sports in 2023 was, even if the ESPY voters had a different way of defining the term.