OU softball: How 2019 team compares to past Sooner national champions
Patty Gasso, minutes after Oklahoma’s final regular-season home game, stood on Marita Hynes Field and addressed a record crowd.
“This is one team that will go down in history as one of the best we’ve ever had,” she told the fans.
Such declarations mean something from a coach who’s won four national titles.
The 2019 squad will begin postseason play at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the Norman Regional. Here’s how it compares to Oklahoma’s past championship teams.
Team batting average: .329
Team ERA: 1.44
Star power: Lisa Carey swung the biggest bat in the lineup, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 77 runs. She wasn’t afraid of the big moment either, smashing homers in each of the team’s final two games in the Women’s College World Series. In the postseason, Jennifer Stewart was a rock star in the circle, too.
Known for: Grittiness. OU hadn’t made the WCWS before 2000, but that team didn’t bat an eye being on the big stage, going undefeated in the postseason. That bunch was undaunted, too, winning one-run games over softball giants Arizona and UCLA in the last two games of the WCWS.
Defining moment: OU’s win in its WCWS opener was huge. Down 1-0 to Cal and ace pitcher Jocelyn Forest heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Sooners tied the game on eight-hole hitter Leah Gulla’s single, then won it with two outs on Christy Ring’s single to center field. It told the Sooners they belonged.
Argument for being OU’s best team: These Sooners blazed the trail. Nowadays, OU teams expect to be in the championship mix, but the 2000 team set that expectation. And they did it with a tough-as-nails ace, Stewart, and a batting order that was lethal from top to bottom.
Argument against: The game has evolved so much in the talent, skill, speed and strength of players, that 2000 team might struggle to keep up with current-day Sooners. The 2000 Sooners drew great strength from their chemistry, but how would they handle the parity and power in today’s game?
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How Gasso remembers it: “Back then it was Arizona, UCLA. I had two lefties on the mound that just spun it really well. A lot of good changes of speed, some power hitters. But I had a gritty group. I think people within the state thought, 'Oh, that is so great. Hey, good luck. Maybe win a game. Make us proud. That's great.' I don't think anyone in the world expected this team to do it. They just went in and played with everything to gain. They were just spot on and unafraid. This team, they were gutsy.”
Team batting average: .335
Team ERA: 1.16
Star power: With Keilani Ricketts in the circle and Lauren Chamberlain batting leadoff, this team had two of the best players in college softball history. Ricketts was National Player of the Year. Chamberlain, as a sophomore, hit a staggering .458 with 30 home runs and a slugging percentage north of 1.000.
Known for: Unity. The team’s championship run will always be linked to the May 2013 Moore tornado. The Sooners adopted the “Home” logo, wearing a blue outline of the state on their helmets in the WCWS.
Defining moment: In Game 1 of the championship series, Tennessee’s Madison Shipman launched a three-run home run off Ricketts in the top of the 11th to break a scoreless tie. OU followed with a flurry of hits in the bottom half to tie the game 3-3. It was Chamberlain’s moment in the bottom of the 12th. She skied a walk-off home run down the left-field line that barely stayed fair.
Argument for being OU’s best team: The Sooners crushed their opponents 32-8 while winning five consecutive games in the WCWS. Chamberlain was the most dominant hitter in OU history, and no Sooner pitcher has more wins than Ricketts.
Argument against: Only the 2019 team compares statistically. The current Sooner lineup is a bit deeper, and more powerful. The pitching stats are almost identical, although Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne carried the load in 2013 whereas it’s been distributed over three pitchers this season.
How Gasso remembers it: “I remember my son DJ graduating from high school and we're playing right here in a super regional. As soon as our game ended I ran over 'cause he was at Lloyd Noble. I had my OU gear on, and right when I walked in they called his name. So I got to see him walk across the stage. I remember the tornado and the connection that we made with the city of Moore. It felt like we were carrying the Oklahoma flag in a sense of trying to bring pride, and joy, and comfort and distraction for those whose lives were turned upside down. To me, 2013 was life changing.”
Team batting average: .351
Team ERA: 2.26
Star power: Paige Parker went 38-3 with a 1.64 ERA. These Sooners were an interesting combination of an up-and-coming freshman class paired with seniors like Erin Miller and Kady Self who were part of the 2013 championship.
Known for: Revenge. After Alabama knocked out Oklahoma in the 2015 super regional, the Sooners beat the Crimson Tide on a Shay Knighten walk-off homer in Game 1 of the WCWS.
Defining moment: Parker, after little rest throughout the postseason, pitched a complete game against Auburn in the championship series finale.
Argument for being OU’s best team: To complement Parker’s pitching, seven Sooners hit .345 or better. Shay Knighten, as a freshman, led the team with a .397 average. It was the beginning of a dynasty for the current senior class.
Argument against: OU lacked depth in the circle behind Parker. The sophomore started 38 of OU’s 57 games and shouldered 252.3 innings.
How Gasso remembers it: “Surprise. I think of Erin Miller and Kady Self taking the lead. That's when we lost Ricketts and some of these other guys. And freshmen knowing they were going to be a big part of this. Just solid leadership, very fun, very free. Lots of dancing. They were fun to coach and they were not afraid to lose. It was also the year of Paige Parker. I will remember for the rest of my life the unbelievable focus, grittiness, persevering and giving everything she could on the mound to the team. A big motivating factor is that we were sent to a super regional in Alabama the year before when Chamberlain and all those guys were seniors. And Paige gave up, not quite a walk-off, but Alabama moved on. And that hurt Paige and she was determined to make it right. I've never seen any kind of performance like that in my life, and I don't know we'll ever see a pitcher do something like that again."
Team batting average: .311
Team ERA: 1.55
Star power: The same as 2016, but a year older. Still, OU’s top-six hitters were all freshmen and sophomores. Missouri transfer Paige Lowary was the biggest addition. Her arrival allowed Parker to work far fewer innings as a junior. And Parker’s numbers improved: 23-5 with a 1.29 ERA.
Known for: History. OU, as the No. 10 seed, was the biggest underdog ever to win the national championship. The Sooners became just the fourth team in history to repeat as champions.
Defining moment: Game 1 of the championship series was a five-and-a-half hour battle. Knighten’s three-run home run in the top of the 17th inning finally pushed Oklahoma past Florida. It was the longest championship series game in NCAA history.
Argument for being OU’s best team: After losing its opening regional game against North Dakota State, OU won four consecutive elimination games to advance. The Sooners then swept Auburn in the super regionals and went 5-0 in the WCWS.
Argument against: The 2017 team had the most losses, worst batting average and second-worst ERA of the championship teams.
How Gasso remembers it: "I think that to me was history. Seventeen-inning game, back-to-back, freshmen who are now sophomores, Paige Parker having a partner in Paige Lowary. I felt like everybody contributed. That was all about history. Can we do it again? Everybody said we can. Are we supposed to? How do we let that go and just go out and play?”
Team batting average: .365
Team ERA: 1.15
Star power: Third baseman Sydney Romero and pitcher Giselle Juarez are among the 10 finalists for National Player of the Year. Oklahoma is the only team with multiple candidates. Romero led the Big 12 in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Juarez is 22-0 with a 1.26 ERA.
Known for: Leadership. Seniors Romero, Knighten, Caleigh Clifton, Falepolima Aviu, Raegan Rogers and Kylie Lundberg all have a chance to leave OU with three national championships in four years.
Defining moment: To be determined. As of now, sweeping Oklahoma State to complete back-to-back 18-0 Big 12 campaigns.
Argument for being OU’s best team: Winning 39 consecutive games in a time when there’s more parity than ever in college softball. Oklahoma leads the nation in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage.
Argument against: Oklahoma lost the two toughest games on its schedule — February tournament games against UCLA and Florida State.
Gasso’s thoughts: “I can honestly tell you there were a lot of question marks losing the two Paiges — probably two of the most decorated pitchers in our history. And our pitching staff now having an ERA that is probably the lowest we've ever had. The home run numbers by Grace Green. The defense by Grace Lyons. You can look all around and go, 'Wow.' I think top to bottom this team could play with any of those four teams."
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›
Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›