OKLAHOMA CITY — Although Oklahoma has frequently looked and even played perfect this season, the Sooners are not a perfect softball team.
That was clear Tuesday night at Hall of Fame Stadium amid a sudden infestation of uncharacteristic mistakes.
No. 1-ranked and top-seeded OU lost 8-4 to Florida State. It was somewhat of a shocker (unless you watched the night before, when the Seminoles took apart 3-seed Alabama and Montana Fouts — she of the recent perfect game herself). FSU is an elite team, and may very well emerge from a week in OKC as the national champion. But FSU drew the 10th seed in the tournament because they’d lost 10 times this season. They lost five one-run games, but they also got kicked around a couple of times.
FSU (49-11-1) came to OKC chasing a national title. Oklahoma (54-4) arrived chasing history.
But in the double-elimination of the Women’s College World Series, hope lies in tomorrow. A team has lost its opener and come back three times in the 15 seasons since the best-of-3 championship series was instituted in 2005, according to research by The Oklahoman.
The Sooners and Seminoles rematch at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and it should be memorable.
OU, however, needs to have its focus less on making history and more on just playing clean softball. The errors, mistakes and just plain curiosities happened way too often on Tuesday night — and they happened early, happened late, and happened several times in between.
They compounded, they piled up, and they were fatal.
“When you're on a stage like this, you just gotta play well,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “You gotta pitch well. You gotta hit well. You gotta do a lot of things well. We didn't do much of that very well.”
- To begin, starting freshman Nicole May was not a mistake by Gasso. May was the Sooners’ most effective pitcher down the stretch of the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament. Giselle Juarez has taken over the ace role in Oklahoma City, but May’s ability and toughness belies her youth. She was ready for her start on the big stage.
“Nicole May we thought could move the ball around a little bit and mix some speeds and kind of keep the ball down,” Gasso said. “And she plays good defense, and Florida State does a lot of short game, a lot of hit-and-run, run-and-hit type action. I thought Nicole would handle that well.”
However, armed this postseason with just three front-line pitchers, Gasso’s mistake was in giving May too much leeway. A quick hook, once it became apparent that the red-hot Seminole lineup was keyed in on her, would have served the Sooners better than letting May fight through continued adversity. A two-run home run in the third inning was manageable; a single and a walk, followed by a hard double into the gap in right-center field, followed by three straight singles in the fourth inning, were not. Gasso waited too long.
- Senior Grace Lyons, who’s probably is as fundamentally sound a shortstop as the game has today — the highest compliment is that she makes the spectacular seem routine, and the routine look spectacular — committed an inexplicable gaffe fielding a ball from FSU’s second batter of the game. With a runner on first base, Lyons went to her left and could have charged second base and tried throwing to first, or she could have just conceded the runner at first and taken the certain out by stepping on the bag. Instead, she flipped the ball delicately to Tiare Jennings, who seemed to have assumed Lyons was charging and wasn’t ready for the flip.
That didn’t lead to damage on the scoreboard thanks to a line drive double play catch-and-throw by Mackenzie Donihoo, but it seemed to almost set the tone that this might not be Oklahoma’s night.
- Sophomore Kinzie Hansen might have the best throwing arm of any catcher in college softball. Opposing runners had stolen on her just three times this season — an incomprehensibly small number. Nationally speaking, the average for opposing baserunners is closer to 30. Her arm, Gasso said, is “just a gun,” and nobody wants to run on her — or on teammate Lynnsie Elam. And yet, there was Hansen, inexplicably firing the ball into center field trying to pick off a runner going back to second.
It’s a extremely high-risk, low-reward play, and it led to a run during the outburst that eventually got May chased.
- Even Gasso — one of the queens of the college game; it’s hard to question a coach with her pedigree — showed she’s not perfect. Gasso just got too aggressive in the bottom of the seventh inning, and it was costly. With her team trailing by four runs, Jennings hit a one-out single up the middle. When Jocelyn Alo followed with a double to center field, Gasso, the Sooners’ third-base coach, sent Jennings home instead of keeping runners at second and third with one out. That might have kept OU poised for a big inning, but Jennings was thrown out at home for the second out, and Hansen then popped up with Alo stranded at second base to end any chance of a rally.
Gasso , understandably trying to put pressure on the FSU defense, knows better than to potentially kill a last-gasp rally by sending a runner home.
“I made a horrific call,” Gasso said. “And I own that. I should not have send Tiare. I just really in my mind was wanting to push the envelope to create momentum. What I didn't do a good job of was knowing who was coming up. … I don't know. I wear that. I already apologized to the team. And that was a bad call by me.”