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Sliding Into the Diamond Dust

24-carat Thoughts

Base Coach Helmets
Sliding Into The Diamond Dust By Tim Pollins

Sliding Into the Diamond Dust

By Tim Pollins

Following are a boatload of 24-carat thoughts that entered my tiny brain as I watched the 2017 softball playoffs, up to and including the Women's College World Series.  In no particular order:

1)  Final Matchup:  Sooners do it again!  Florida and Oklahoma entered the postseason with each having won two of the past four titles.  The victor in this tilt would own a third recent championship and bragging rights.  Game 1 was a roller coaster ride for the ages, with unlikely comebacks by Florida falling just short in the 17-inning affair.  Game 2, though feeling a bit anticlimactic at first, ratcheted up the intensity and the prcoeedings were taut thereafter.  The Sooners grabbed the national crown with their unique blend of dominant pitching, stellar defense, clutch hitting, blazing team speed, and the inspired coaching of Patty Gasso.  In 2016, Oklahoma was deemed by many — myself included — to be a year away from being serious contenders.  Instead, they became white-hot and steamrolled to the crown.  This year there was talk of the ballclub being less hungry right up until they went on another blistering tear and — despite some anxious moments courtesy of North Dakota State — the Sooners dispatched whichever teams stood in their way of a title defense.  The players are smart and clutch and Gasso, their fearless leader, routinely makes gutsy calls as if they were no-brainers.

2)  Here's how I imagine the exchange went between a Minnesota Representative and a member of the Selection Committee:

MR:  In this year of stifled offense, we have two of the few players who have over 70 runs batted in, plus a 20-homer hitter.  Our workhorse pitcher is no worse than the second or third best performer in the circle in the country.  Our four best regular batters hit for averages of .426, .396, .380, and .374.  All 8 of our batters who started every game hit .330 or above. Entering the upcoming playoffs, the team is 14-0 at home this season, 18-3 on the road, and 18-0 at neutral sites.  The ballclub was 22-1 in Big Ten competition.  Against non-conference opponents who are in this tournament, the Golden Gophers collected two wins apiece from Texas, Notre Dame, and North Dakota State, and one each from LSU, Fresno State, Oregon State, and California.  In picking up those 10 impressive victories, Minnesota lost zero games against that group. The Gophers were ranked as high as #1 late in the campaign by both major polls.  So how do you rate this juggernaut?

SC:  Um, a 17th seed, I guess.

And that led to what will always be called The Minnesota Snub.

If the Selection Committee member had been a single individual, he would have been peppered with questions along the lines of “It's personal, isn't it?”  I had Minnesota in my top 3 for most of the season, as obviously did many others.  For them not to be given one of the 16 national seeds was a miscarriage of justice.  In addition to Minnesota, the shocking twist was unfair to Alabama.  Based on its own excellent track record, the Crimson Tide was just a tad down this season and was mostly hoping to be considered strong enough to host a regional.  They were, but having the Golden Gophers on tap as a second-round opponent was not what they deserved.  I was fit to be tied when one of the talking heads — seeing that all 16 seeds had advanced to the super regionals — somehow had the nerve to mouth something like “Well, the Committee got it totally right.”  Wrong!  Yes, Minnesota did run into a buzz saw in the form of Alabama pitching.  To me, the battle between Osorio and Groenewegen was the best-pitched game from two opposing pitchers that I saw all year.  I and others are clearly arguing that the Gophers should have been given a seeding through the super regionals.  You don't think home field would have meant a lot in a reasonably seeded bracket?  In my view, Minnesota was cheated out of a chance to contend for national glory.  We can't even be sure that the Selection Committee wasn't idiotic enough to rank the Big Ten regular season and conference tourney champs well below 17.  This is chicanery at its nadir.  Or as Cheri Kempf put it about the controversial ending to the fabuous pitching duel:  “That game ended on strike 2.”

3)  Should all 13 SEC teams have been invited to the national tournament?  Probably not, but one could make a case either way.  I'm not against an entire league going in per se.  The SEC has been the strongest conference for several years.  Now that all 13 of its softball programs are striving mightily to be competitive, it might be a rarity whenever an SEC entry does not look to be playoff worthy. Beyond that, the Pac-12 landed 8 of its 9 participants in the tourney, so this issue is not a big deal. A couple of factors push me in the opposite direction, however.  On the day after the regular season ended, a McNeese State player posted on Facebook that she had just played her final game for the school.  Whether she had forgotten about the playoffs or knew she wouldn't get into those games, I can't say.  But I then wondered whether McNeese had somehow not made the cut for the postseason.  After that, I made sure USC Upstate had made the field.  In both cases, the teams were safely in.  Even so, I vowed that nobody would have been able to justify putting SEC bottom dwellers in the field ahead of squads as impressive as McNeese State and USC Upstate.  My other concern is that for 2017, I was of the opinion that one and possibly two SEC schools did not belong in the national competition.  The less obvious choice for me in that regard was Georgia, though in the case of a team being invited to compete in the national playoffs but not in its own conference tourney (when everyone else was), the optics are admittedly bad.  What message is being sent to the players in other conferences?  That an SEC team doesn't need to keep up with its conference sisters at all in order to qualify for a run in the postseason?  I don't like that one bit. A majority of the schools need to finish first or (maybe) second in their league in order to get in the main draw, while an SEC entry can finish 13th in the conference and needn't worry at all about not being selected?  That's kooky talk!  The bigger problem was Missouri.  The team began the season well, but that did not last long.  As the ballclub's own coach admitted, they were finding new ways to lose games on a near daily basis.  I rooted hard for Missouri in 2016 for any number of reasons, but the atmosphere has been toxic there for a while.  The Tigers were falling apart towards the end of the campaign and they were exactly the caliber of team that should not be given the chance to extend its season.  Having said all this, I love watching the SEC Network in large part because that conference truly does play the best brand of ball at the collegiate level.  Oh, but others are gaining on them and that is a positive development for the sport.

4)  The next time somebody with a microphone starts talking about RPI, listen carefully.  They always begin the same way by mentioning that RPI is only one of many tools used by selection committes to rank teams.  Now focus.  Everything they say after that makes it clear that RPI is considered first among equals and the favored tool of the gods!  For example, a big deal was made out of the fact that Baylor was #13 in RPI heading into the 2016 playoffs, yet didn't warrant one of the 16 national seeds.  They alone suffered that fate.  Do you realize how many ways a slight edge in RPI can be more than offset by a variety of counter measures?  And yet the grumbling last year continued after the only two seeded teams that failed to reach the super regionals were Kentucky and Tennessee — both SEC entries.  Aren't we to the point where we almost automatically — and wrongly — assume that the stronger the RPI number, the better the team?  I'm sure RPI can be a useful measurement if not overvalued.  Keep in mind that there is bias and/or shortcuts in every system.  I guarantee you that part of what props up RPI exists in the realm of circular logic.

5)  The best I saw in 2017:

Lacey Waldrop Smiling Award — Grinning Gator Gourley

Always the happiest person in the ballpark — Alyson Habetz

Prettiest swing — Nikki Udria

Consistent power hitting back to back — Jessie Warren & Alex Powers

Hitting duo up the middle — Delaney Spaulding & Kylee Perez

Fielding duo up the middle — Amber Serrett & Constance Quinn

Bat control — Lindsey Cargill

Hand/eye coordination — Sydney Romero

Clutch and feared hitter — Shay Knighten

Command — Sara Groenewagen

Rise ball — Alexis Osorio

Drop ball — Kaitlin Lee

Curve ball — Danielle O'Toole

Dominance  — Kelly Barnhill

Changeup —  Delanie Gourley

Fielding pitcher — Danielle O'Toole

Smoothest delivery — Jessica Burroughs

Coolest angle to the plate — Kaylee Carlson

Windup with the most moving parts — Kelsee Sellman

Versatile — Aleshia Ocasio, Bailey Landry, Megan Good

Athletic — Megan Good, Aleshia Ocasio, Bailey Landry

Winner — Paige Parker

Perfect form — Caleigh Clifton

Wildly underrated — Fordham

She was a blur on the bases and her boldness and audacity made me say “Wow”!!! — Morgan Zerkle.

6)  Player of the Year: 

I correctly guessed that Kelly Barnhill, Meghan Gregg, and Megan Good would be the three finalists.  I could convince myself to lobby for any member of that trio with no problem.  Barnhill was totally dominant in the circle and Gregg's season was probably even better than Kasey Cooper's 2016 top 3 finish.  Still, my vote — if I had one — would be cast for Megan Good. I realize and fully appreciate what Barnhill did, but there ended up being half a dozen or so pitchers with sub 1.00 earned run averages — and Megan Good was one of them.  I believe she gave up less than a run per game last year as well.  If I'm not mistaken, there is a tacit agreement among conferences to have a league Pitcher of the Year and a league Player of the Year who is not a pitcher.  Megan Good was somehow both.  I'm assuming that means she was the best hitter not only for JMU, but for the entire Colonial Athletic Association, as well as their most valuable performer in the circle.  We've seen some fine hitting pitchers diversify through the collegiate ranks, but nothing in recent memory can match Good's incredible double.  She's also tall and extremely athletic, so forget about spouting any nonsense about the quality of her competition.  She would dominate anywhere and should be a superstar in NPF if she chooses to go that route.  I'd rank her pro upside as high as anybody else's.  So there!

7)  Last year I was shocked by how much I concurred with the official All-American teams.  I was especially pleased to see that players whose numbers had fallen off weren't automatically included from muscle memory or whatever.  This time around, I'm still more or less in basic agreement, but there was at least one egregious mistake. The three All-American teams combined feature 55 players.  So there is sometimes plenty of room for borderline candidates.  As for these listings:  8 shortstops and Delaney Spaulding isn't one of them?!  That has to be a clerical error.  Check out her numbers and see what I mean.  And that doesn't even take into account her superior defense.  Without mentioning which players I might want to dump to make room for Spaulding and possibly others, I would suggest that the following softballers deserved consideration for All-American status.  Did some or all of them receive that courtesy?  I can't say, but here are my five “too little/too late” recommendations:

Maddy Grimm — Kent State

Erika Piancastelli — McNeese State

Elicia D'Orazio — Marshall

Holly McKinnon — USC Upstate

Morgan Flores — Washington

8)  I did some cursory research and think I discovered that none of the other conferences have copied that loopy and unbalanced schedule that the SEC operates under.  So it appears future postseason announcements will include the kind of thing we've been hearing — “Florida and LSU did not play each other this season” —  even though both coaches swear their teams do compete in the same league.  I'm starting to suspect that the setup is designed to minimize conference losses.

9)  The Bases Loaded concept and implementation proved to be a big success.  Showing all games wire to wire and jumping around smartly to keep viewers fully informed was quite the rush.  It did become more difficult to chart some of the shifting media coverage, but that was a small price to pay for so much action.  An added plus is that ESPN now had an excuse to expand Kayla Braud's role on the telecasts.  As predicted here, once Braud loosened up a bit a year or so ago she was destined to be a focal point of the presentation. ( Kayla's list of strengths allows you to check a lot of boxes.)  I'll wager Braud is surprised by how much she digs her current gig.  I didn't get full introductions to many of the  broadcasters, so I don't have a lot to say on that front.  I must admit I got a kick out of the Alex Loeb/Megan Willis pairing.  They were very cute together and Willis can be entertainingly unpredictable.  Sometimes I feel as if Cheri Kempf is trying to sell me something, but she is still the one most likely to directly confront a controversy.  In addition to her memorable “that game ended on strike two” line, Kempf patiently and thoroughly took the viewers through the goings-on relative to those infernal obstruction sequences.  Nothing against the talented Eric Collins, but I was “ascared” that ESPN was breaking up my dream team consisting of Adam Amin and Amanda Scarborough — particularly in view of how many times Collins identified Scarborough as his partner.  I enjoy Eric's work on the NPF games and I think he was even sharper with Amanda.  Still, I was delighted when I found out that the dream team would indeed be working selected games after all.  Collins and Scarborough have such different temperaments.  In what may or may not have been a conscious decision, she countered his double-barreled enthusiasm with small doses of levity.  When she was back in the booth with Amin, she cracked everyone up with a clever line at Amin's pretend expense.  Jennie Ritter is always thoughtful and informative.  Beth Mowins teamed with Michele Smith and Jessica Mendoza and they still call a great game.  During the 17-inning thrill ride, the three broadcasters were downright giddy at times.  I will say — and this doesn't necessarily refer to any one group — that there were an inordinate number of mistakes made on the telecasts.  Not knowing who was at bat was perhaps the most frequent error this time around.  Too often the play-by-play announcers gave the audience the wrong number of outs.  This is a forum where it's easy to make some miscues.  I only bring this up because the flubs were much more in evidence than usual.  Holly Rowe, Laura Rutledge, and the other sideline reporters asked open-ended questions that elicited decent answers and less than usual “feelspeak.”  Nice job.  The only thing on my wish list that wasn't indulged was Danielle Lawrie getting a chance for an encore to her intriguing booth analysis work in last year's playoffs.

10) Short Questions and Comments:

It didn't appear as if adjusting the schedule to limit the number of multi-game days had much of an effect on any aspect of the proceedings, but that could be an uninformed guess on my part.  All things being equal, I'm more likely to favor rule changes that reward pitching staffs and/or penalize pitching units featuring one hurler only.

Defensively, the catchers at the college level are sensational on their way to becoming even more so.  I love it that there is room for a few lefty catchers.  Reagan Dykes is the odd duck batting right and throwing left!

Between the conference tournaments and the national playoffs, have you ever seen so many bunts being popped straight up in the air?  Please don't claim you weren't warned.  That fundamental skill needs to be mastered by entire rosters if at all possible.

Why are home runs down so significantly?  Surely it's more than just power pitching.  There are too many of these ebbs and flows from season to season with inadequate insights into why.

Situational hitting is slightly on the upswing (no pun intended).  That's progress that ought to be developed much further.

We're always hearing about the USA National Team.  Are those roster spots all sewn up or can players lacking connections try out for the squad?

Why don't subs play more?  I read something the other day that suggested softball might have the most grueling schedule in collegiate competition.  If true, why not give more playing time to heretofore light contributors who might surprise you?  At first, I thought this was the case simply because so many head coaches are cautious and conservative, but I now believe it's an unwritten agreement between players and coaches.  The best players want to compete in all of the games and somehow make their wishes known.  Maybe it's just trendy now not to develop much of a bench.

Should batters be given credit for accumulating piles of walks?  Sure, they're being pitched around for a reason.  Except for not earning an RBI via the walk if the bases aren't full, a base on balls is often as good as a hit.  A player's high on-base percentage is an important offensive contribution.

Players invariably assume they're running as fast as they can from home to first base, but they're not.  Best of all:  this can be taught.

I never hear talk about stolen base percentage on the broadcasts.  In baseball, a rule of thumb is that a player has to successfully swipe 75% of the bags in order to be an actual contributor on offense in that category.  I assume something similar exists in softball.

Only one or two pitchers were throwing at 70 miles per hour a year ago, but now pert near everybody does?  Trust me — the guns are either not functioning properly now or weren't doing so previously.

11) My “they will be even better in 2017” results:  Okay, I missed by a little on Florida State.  They are the gold standard in the ACC and have been for many years.  I honestly expected them to be in the final matchup vs. Oklahoma (Florida was my second choice).  The Seminoles were a bit unlucky in these playoffs and didn't bow out too much earlier than last year's Final Four finish.  I was right on the money in predicting bigger things for Ole Miss.  They made all kinds of strides forward throughout the season and they're likely to take several more giant steps next year.  Technically, the only way for my Oklahoma prediction to come true would be for them to win the championship in two games rather than last season's three games.  I believe I had that!

12) College softball has a (hopefully temporary) problem somewhat analogous to an NBA conundrum.  Pro basketball coaches are now given to resting their stars on certain nights, which leads to oodles of disappointed fans.  Lack of adequate lineup protection is costing some of this sport's most compelling hitters to be issued free passes to first base as a measure designed to pitch around dangerous bats.  It's frustrating to arrive at the ballpark and watch as your favorite hitter never takes the bat off her shoulder.  How to address this issue and alter the dynamic?  I reckon it will need to happen organically and from within.  In the meantime, we'll never know if Sahvanna Jaquish would have knocked in 100 runs had coaches allowed their circle dwellers to pitch to her more.

13) I realize I've gone back and forth on the subject of the slap hitters from day one.  Well, I'm back and more firmly on their side than ever.  The reason for yet another semi change of heart?  I was reminded by Ole Miss and Marshall just how much I love team speed in every sport.  Seeing how disruptive speed can be is so invigorating!  Proud defenses become discombobulated when true quickness is in their neighborhood.  Running to a victory via a befuddled defense is way cool.  On the other hand, a new trend seems to be pinch-hitting for high-average slappers late in games so that it won't take five or six hits to score one run!  Such is the fate of these valuable yet at times undervalued resources.

14) Umpires actually seem to be making a higher percentage of calls correctly these days, but the ones they're missing are ever so crucial!  So many games are scoreless  after four, five, or six innings.  I like a good pitcher's duel as much as the next bozo, but there are two aspects of those tight tilts that bother me. One is that more than a handful of power arms in the circle utterly overwhelm the hitters on the opposing team more often than not.  In those instances, the lineups appear diminished and the sport seems unbalanced.  My other fear is that the longer two teams remain evenly matched, the more likely an umpire's bad call will decide who wins and who loses.  When some runs are scored early in games, there's time to adjust or rise above a blown call.  Later in the contest?  Not so much.

15) I watched games this season with an eye toward identifying players I regard as underrated in one way or another.  In addition to the performers I listed as perhaps worthy of All-American consideration, here are 18 other valuable assets who may or may not be receiving the local, regional, or national attention they deserve:

Justyce McClain — McNeese State

Sydney Canessa — Fordham    

Mackenzie Toler — Mississippi State

Julia Hollingsworth — Marshall

Alyssa Derrick — Maine

Rachel Carlson — Maine

Marissa Reynolds — Princeton

Tahlia Snider — FAMU

Stephanie Texeira — FIU

Donna Conrad — Albany

Elizabeth Snow — Albany

Kelsey Riley — Texas Southern

Cassidy Clarke — San Jose State

Shaye Harre — Southern Illinois

Amanda Ulzheimer — Fairfield

Whitney Gillespie — Jacksonville State

Jacquelyn Sertic — North Dakota State

Nicole Schroeder — Arkansas

In addition, I had planned to present an elaborate “compare and contrast” treatment that would have revealed that USC Upstate shortstop Ansley Gilstrap and UCLA left fielder Gabrielle Maurice are both underrated even though they are also highly regarded.  Alas, my deadline for this project looms ever nearer and so I need to start wrapping things up.  While readers missed a genuine opportunity to laugh, cry, and run the gamut of human emotions, you still have peanut butter!  One of Maurice's 2017 numbers gives a false read on her true value to the Bruins over her four-year career.  Gilstrap, on the other hand, is only halfway through her tenure with the Spartans and is hitting on all cylinders. Trust me — I would have tied it all together.

16) I consulted with a few doctors several years ago complaining of pain that kept running up and down my left arm.  The first two medicos asked me when I had undergone elbow surgery.  I replied — truthfully — “never” and they all but accused me of lying to them.  Well, the third doctor posed the same question, got the same answer, and then exclaimed:  “Then you must be a baseball pitcher.”  He then explained to me that my injury had to be the result of either a botched operation or a few thousand too many curve balls. I signed up to undergo cubital tunnel syndrome surgery to prevent the condition from becoming any worse. The procedure basically worked.  I did keep dropping my tennis racket on the court for a while, but that subsided soon enough.  And I had no trouble at all hefting and guiding my 16-pound bowling ball to its rightful place in the 1-2 pocket.  All is forgiven.

The reason for the above sob story is because my left-handed scrawl is incredibly tough to read and write these days.  I'm often scrambling around trying to jot down the names of players who are not using batting gloves when they hit.  Therefore, I probably make numerous mistakes on that front.

Here are some folks who have no use for batting gloves:  Celina Felix, Jade Gortarez, Shelby Hiers, Jordan Roberts, Bailey Hemphill, Reagan Dykes, Sydney Romero, Whitney Jordan, Casey McCrackin, Alyssa Barrera, Kay Kay Fronda, Kelly Martinez, Jessie Scroggins, Danica Mercado, Hannah Flippen, Heather Bowen, Kasey Cooper, Scarlet McSwain, Aloise Tribulet, Braxton Burnside, Kobie Pettis, Annie Aldrete,  Randee O'Donnell, Sara Novak, Victoria Williams, Lindsay Mayer, Maddy Grimm, Holly Speers, Jordon Augustus, Aidan Falk, Carsyn Gordon, Cali Harrod, Jessica Mrozek, Loren Krzyko, Caylan Adams, Kat Moore, Sarai Nu, Tristan Edwards, Shelby Miller, Cristy Wagner, Brooke Marquez, Amanda Brashear, Kyla Walker, Lindsay Cargill, Casey Stangel, Leila Chambers, Tiarra Davis, Brandi Needham, Abigail Tolbert, Elizabeth DeShields, Alex Cruz, Jacquelyn Sertic, Haley Meinen, Jamie McGuire, Lauren Lindvall, Chloe Rathburn, and Kirsten Mack.  There are plenty more, but I couldn't handle the paperwork.  Again, I apologize if you're on this list yet shouldn't be.  It's clear we're on schedule to take over the world, but let's have a picnic first. Naked hands only, of course.  See you there.

17) I have a hunch these two players will be special talents:

Braxton Burnside — Missouri & Morgan Reed — Notre Dame

Feedback is always welcome here.

Catcher Zone: Self Assessment and Self Confidence

Written By Bryan Ingalls

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Catcher Zone Self Assessment And Self Confidence

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In order to truly improve at your craft and perform on the field at high levels, two things are vital; self confidence and the ability to give yourself an honest self assessment. Those two things come at completely different times. The self confidence aspect should always be there but more so than ever when you are on the field in a game. You have to believe that you have the ability to perform at a level that you may not be able to. Thinking you can do something is a very powerful tool. But one thing that we should all be able to do as an athlete outside of the game type situation is be able to give ourselves an honest self assessment.

Believing you are better than what you are when you are in battle is a powerful tool to perform higher than the levels you may be capable of, but believing you are better than what you are in your training will severely hinder your ability to actually get there. Sometimes it is very difficult to think to yourself that there is something you cannot do, but you have to be realistic with yourself in order to improve on certain things. The power of the self assessment is the first step to believing in a process to improve your game physically and mentally. Your coach or instructor may be one of the best in the game, but if you as the athlete do not buy in, than you will not get better.

You need to give an honest assessment, write down your strengths as an athlete, but also write down your weaknesses. Your goal should be to make your weaknesses your strengths and make your strengths become second nature. For example, if you are a shortstop, you may do extremely well moving to your glove side, but struggle a bit on the approach going to your right. Identify that weakness and work on it. Get stronger, get faster, learn how to read to ball off the bat better, and improve your skills or approach to the ball. You should never ignore your strengths, those need to constantly be worked on as well, but the weaknesses need the extra attention. During practice and training you should never think to yourself, I can do it all, I am the best. There is always something to improve on and there is always someone better.

With that being said a flip must be switched when it becomes game time. There is a quote that seems simple but it is so true, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is a little bit extra”. That extra 10-15% of intent and self confidence makes the world of difference when it comes to competition. Whatever you are thinking in your head, you are right. You are up to bat and the Pitcher may be the best in the league, and you think to yourself, “Man, she is good; no way can I hit her”. You are right, you are already defeated. But if you think to yourself, “Yea, she is good, but she can't throw the ball by me, I am even better”, you may surprise yourself with the result. Mindset and self confidence in a one on one battle is one of the most important things you can bring as an asset, but it is not something that any coach can give you. You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and that goes back to the self assessment.

By giving that self assessment to yourself and working on the things that you may struggle with better prepares yourself for that battle. Practice is like studying, and the games are the test. If the chemistry exam is the test do not tell yourself you know the periodic table of elements when you are studying when you really don't. You are setting yourself up for failure. Think to yourself, “I really need to know this. I need to put the time in and get to know this so I can go into the test ready”. Once the test comes do not go in worried. You prepared, you did what you had to do and right now all you have to do is go in confidently and trust your preparation.

It is a very fine line, basically what is being said is that you should humble yourself, break yourself down, admit your weaknesses, and then do what you have to do to make them better. But once that game comes you have to trust that process, trust your preparation and believe that you are even better than you are. You cannot make that extraordinary play, hit, or pitch without believing in yourself that you can do it. The mind is a beautiful and powerful thing, use it to your advantage to give that little extra and become extraordinary.

Dallas / Fort Worth Coaches Group

Great Players

Written By Bill Plummer

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Great Players

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One of the most overused word in sports is great. It seems these days that many athletes are great and people freely like to label these athletes as great. It happens in softball as in other sports. You hear fans talk and they mention that such and such is a great player. Not really. Maybe in their minds the player is great, but in reality there are very few great players.

Certain players may dominate an era or a period of years and they could be classified great for that period of time. In reality there are many players who are average, good and excellent. Not that many are great, but people forget that and unfortunately don't look at an athlete's career to determine if the athlete was dominate enough to be considered great.

In women's fastpitch softball, two athletes are generally considered the greatest or the greatest for their period of time. They are Joan Joyce, the current coach at Florida Atlantic University, and Lisa Fernandez, an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA.

Joyce and Fernandez each excelled as pitchers and playing a different position when not pitching. Joyce played first base and Fernandez third base. Besides playing another position, each was gifted on the mound. Joyce and Fernandez dominated inside the circle and certainly earned their distinction as the greatest players of their respective eras.

Unfortunately, as time passes people forget what each of these two athletes did in their career and their careers become only memories to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have watched either one of these two play–and this writer did–you didn't forget their dominance on the softball field.

Fernandez starred at UCLA and of course has the distinction of being the only player in the history of college softball to lead the nation in batting and ERA. In 1992, Fernandez batted .510 to lead all hitters and had an ERA of 0.25 against the nation's best collegiate players. She finished with a 93-7 pitching record and a .382 career batting average. She was a member of three USA Olympic teams and batted at a record of .545 in her last Olympics. Lisa is clearly the “total package” and could have excelled at whatever position she wanted to play instead of third base when she wasn't pitching. Her determination and work effort to be the best was unrivaled.

Who knows if an athlete in the future will duplicate this or surpass this feat, but I doubt it. It takes enough time, effort and preparation to be good at one phase of softball let alone another phase of the game.

Joyce, who excelled at other sports such as golf, basketball, and volleyball, was named an ASA All-American 18 times and shared or won outright the MVP award in the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch Championship eight times. She is a member of nine Halls of Fame and had an overall pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses, plus a .327 career batting average. In 1994, she was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic and has had only one losing record during that time. Joyce retired from ASA play after the 1975 season and then devoted her efforts to pro softball for the Connecticut Falcons.

So the next time someone says such and such is great, stop and think and remember that very few athletes are actually great in the overall history of their particular sport. For Joan Joyce and Lisa Fernandez, there wasn't any doubt. They were and still are the greatest.

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Florida Championship Series Game 2 Press Conference

2017 Women's College World Series

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Florida Championship Series Game 2 Press Conference

2017 Women's College World Series

Tuesday June 6, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma – 5, Florida – 4

Florida interview with Tim Walton, Chelsea Herndon, Aleshia Ocasio, and Amanda Lorenz.

TIM WALTON: First, congratulations to Oklahoma on a national championship, just a hard fought two games. Wish we could have pushed it to a third, and give us a chance. But I thought overall our players, really proud of our team. I thought they came out again, really good, really well. I thought we came in this morning, and I thought we really did everything we needed to do to prepare to get ready for tonight's game, and I thought we took care of ourselves and took care of each other. But overall just proud of our effort. Congratulations to Coach (Patty) Gasso on another national championship and to the University of Oklahoma. Just thanks to the NCAA, ESPN, OKC All-Sports, University of Oklahoma hosting this tournament. It's a great event. Just an awesome event when you get that many people in there cheering, and then the crowd, I thought the crowd was great and I give a lot of credit to the OU fans for being very respectful. They were cheering and chanting and doing their cheers and nothing was ever any negative tone toward us. They were just cheering the heck out of their team and I give them a lot of respect for competing the right way with a lot of class, so congratulations.

Q. Tim, your team fights so hard, and they're never out of a game. Even in the last at-bat they've got a chance. As they're throwing all that pitching at you, what are you thinking?

TIM WALTON: Yeah, I had an in-game interview and I mentioned to Holly (Rowe), we've got to find a way to get another run up there before we can get Paige Lowary coming in at the end and we knew what she was going to be able to do. Overall I thought we were prepared. We tried to do everything we could to get that run, runner at second base, I think, with one out in the sixth. We had a chance.

But I'm proud. I can't tell you — again, I know our players — we questioned their toughness breaking camp for the fall, and they all took notice and they worked hard and they put in the extra effort. They did all the things that they needed to do. We had a lot of kids that have really put in above and beyond what we ask of them because they all have high expectations for being great.

Our coaching staff works really hard, but again, I think to get to this point, it takes a special group of players that really has a drive for their own — not perfection, but greatness. So I give not only these three but the rest of our team, the other 15 women, just a tip of my cap for how hard they work and just how much they really appreciate each other.

Q. Kind of a two-parter, I don't think you guys lost a game when you scored three runs or more playing in the best conference, historically, ever. What changed at the World Series, and can you explain why you went with the pitchers? You know their arms and their strengths better than us.

TIM WALTON: Yeah, I told (Jennifer) Rocha I was hoping we could get through one time with the lineup, just to change the look from what they're getting before we brought in Delanie (Gourley) and then before we came back with Kelly (Barnhill). It was more about matchups. You know, they get the home run early, get a couple nice infield hits to go along with that late, but I just felt like it was a good opportunity for us to try to piece together this game and stretch it out as long as we could. Other than really two bad pitches, I thought we pitched pretty well, played good defense, hit the ball well.

But you know, it just wasn't our tournament. You look at the statistics, it's eerie how close the games were statistically. So I think that you've got two even matched teams. One just found a way to hit the ball over the fence more than we did, and give them a lot of credit.

Q. I know that this has been a great site for the game, but when the games are this close, can the crowd make a difference, the momentum, the noise?

TIM WALTON: Yeah, I mean, I would assume that the crowd had a little bit to do with it, especially the last three at-bats maybe, the crowd was in it. But it's hard for me to make an excuse that Oklahoma had more fans than we had and that's why they won. That would be taking a lot away from what they really did and accomplished.

But I think there's a little bit to that. But I thought our players really stepped up and rose to the challenge. So I'm not going to make that excuse today. I give them credit for finding a way to get more base runners on base and get the hits when they needed it.

Q. What made you question that toughness coming out of camp in the fall and what did you need to see from them?

TIM WALTON: Yeah, I think the main thing is really we lean heavily on our strength and conditioning staff and we've got times, we've got certain things that we want them to be able to measure up and hit on, and it's just being able to withstand the pressure that we put on them in the mornings, sometimes before 6 in the morning just to — it's not a toughness thing, it's just about mind over what you have to do.

I think a lot of our players dreaded the workouts more than they actually dreaded them when they were working out, and so that's a mental toughness thing. You're going to have to be able to be at your best when your body is dying, and that'll never change, conditioning our athletes. You want them to be mentally tough. To be mentally tough they're going to have to push their bodies a little bit harder. So that was it. Again, that's not personal, that's just about — that's just what it takes to be a national champion, that's what it takes to be a College World Series participant. That's what it takes to be a Florida Gator. You're going to have to push yourself really hard, and then the push comes from your teammates. You're going to have to push your teammates hard and use constructive criticism at 6 in the morning and learn how to get over those hard runs.

I thought, again, we questioned it breaking camp, they came back in good shape from Christmas break and really pushed and pushed other than a couple early injuries in January. I thought they really answered, they really understood that it was going to take a little bit more, and I think that came down from our upperclassmen. It came down from our leaders. I thought the leadership was very positive, and you see kids out there doing more. I think that was the differences that we've had players that are really good and what they were doing wasn't good enough to get them to this point, and they all bought in, and like I said, I would have questioned it later on. They really fought hard.

Q. For the players, your coach says any season that ends in Oklahoma City is a tremendous success. You guys made it to the Championship Series. Can you take solace in that right now?

AMANDA LORENZ: Yeah, definitely. It feels better to end our season here instead of Gainesville like last year. Just really proud of the fight that we've shown and the growth that we've shown. Like Coach (Tim Walton) was saying, I didn't really know what our identity was coming in in the fall, and we just grew every single day. And every single day someone stepped up, and this team was so special because everybody contributed at any time, and everybody had the mindset that if they were put into the game they were going to get something done for their teammates. Just excited about the growth that we had, and proud that we ended our season here for sure. Wish we came out on top. But it happens.

ALESHIA OCASIO: I completely agree with Amanda. It's an honor to be here and blessed to have been here to battle with other girls on my team. You know, we came up shorthanded. They played a great game. We had a hard fight both games, and we just didn't come out on top. We're going to come back next year with a hard fight, as well.

CHELSEA HERNDON: I agree with that, too. Any time you end your season in OKC it's a great season. It's an honor to be one of the last two teams playing in the nation. You are the softball game to watch, and it's pretty awesome. Yeah, this team was amazing.

Q. Aleshia, coming into the game, you hadn't started a game since April 30th. How were you lined up for that mentally?

ALESHIA OCASIO: Well, first off, you know, coming in and pitching, you always want to give your team a chance no matter the situation. Delanie (Gourley) and Kelly (Barnhill) have been amazing all season with the stuff they have. It's really incredible. But Coach (Tim Walton) pitched the idea to me that I might possibly be pitching, and I was just trying to mentally prepare myself for today's game and just give my team a chance and trying to keep runs off the board. They got one early, but that didn't faze us at all. We still fought. But they came out on top, like I said before.

Q. Coach, the pitching has been so phenomenal and overwhelming all season; is there just that much film? Does this environment change things? I heard the commentators speculating that the air was heavier in Gainesville. What do we make of all the runs, going from a 0.66 to the explosion we saw from both teams?

TIM WALTON: I don't really know how to answer that. I don't listen to commentators or anybody else because they're not with our team to know what's going on, you know? We struck out 26 batters last night. Pretty heavy air, I guess.

POSTGAME NOTES
Championship Series Game 2: Oklahoma 5, Florida 4

  • No. 10 seed Oklahoma won its third NCAA title in the last five years, defeating No. 1 seed Florida, 5-4, on Tuesday. The Sooners are the first No. 10 seed to win the Women’s College World Series.
  • Oklahoma improves to 27-16 at the Women’s College World Series, while Florida falls to 25-14. OU ranks fourth in WCWS history with 27 wins at the event. The Sooners have won six straight and 12 out of their 13 games at the WCWS dating back to 2016.
  • Every WCWS Championship Series since 2011 has featured either Florida (2011, ’14, 15, ’17) or Oklahoma (2012, ’13, ’16, ’17). The Gators won the NCAA title in 2014 and 2015, while OU captured the crown in the 2013, 2016 and 2017.
  • Nicole Mendes’ leadoff home run in the bottom of the first put the Sooners ahead 1-0. It was the second home run for Mendes in WCWS Championship Series and her second career leadoff home run. The freshman also threw 1.0 inning of relief, giving up just one hit in her first appearance in the circle at the WCWS.
  • Florida shortstop Alexis Reynoso belted her third home run of the year, a solo blast to left field, to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the second. It was the first homer for Reynoso since March 19 at South Carolina.
  • The Gators tacked on two more runs in the second as Aleshia Ocasio’s single to right plated Justine McClean. Florida added its third run of the frame as OU reliever Mariah Lopez hit the Gators’ Kayli Kvistad with the bases loaded, scoring Amanda Lorenz.
  • With the bases loaded, OU’s Caleigh Clifton walked to trim Florida’s lead down to 3-2. After Clifton reached, Shay Knighten cleared the bases with a double to the right center gap to put OU up 5-3. In 11 games at the WCWS, Knighten has recorded 16 RBIs and is hitting .389 with three home runs.
  • Clifton finished 2-for-2 with one run scored and a RBI to lead the Sooners. It was the junior’s 17th multi-hit game of the season.
  • Florida cut the OU lead down to 5-4 as Alex Herndon recorded her fifth home run of the season with a solo homer to center field. Herndon finished with 1-for-3 with a run scored and a RBI.
  • Oklahoma freshman Mariah Lopez (18-1) earned the win in relief, tossing 2.1 innings and allowing just one run on one hit.
  • Paige Lowary earned her third save at the WCWS, pitching the final 2.0 innings and retiring all six batters she faced in order. Lowary’s three saves are the most in WCWS history. The junior recorded 11 saves during 2017, which is tied for the most by a pitcher in NCAA single-season history.
  • Lowary made four relief appearance at the 2017 WCWS, which is tied for the most in series history with Auburn’s Rachel Walters (2015) and Alabama’s Jackie Traina (2011). The junior’s 0.88 ERA is tied for the second-lowest ERA in WCWS history (minimum 10 appearances). Lowary finished four games at the WCWS, the most by a pitcher in series history.
  • Ocasio (8-2) took the loss, giving up four runs on four hits in 1.1 innings pitched. Delanie Gourley pitched the final 4.2 innings, allowing one run on four hits, while striking out five.
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Oklahoma Championship Series Game 2 Press Conference

2017 Women's College World Series

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Oklahoma Championship Series Game 2 Press Conference

2017 Women's College World Series

Tuesday June 6, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma – 5, Florida – 4

Oklahoma interview with Patty Gasso, Paige Parker, Paige Lowary, Kelsey Arnold, Shay Knighten, and Nicole Mendes.

PATTY GASSO: Well, first and foremost, whether we win or lose, we give the glory to God. Had the power of three throughout this entire postseason, and it was powerful for this group. Proud of them.

I also want to thank everybody who worked this tournament. It was so well-run, better than we've ever seen it, and I congratulate Florida. What a great, great team, well-coached. They're tough.

The battle that we had last night was unbelievable, and I think we still feel a little adrenaline from last night, as well. But it was a challenge.

Words cannot express — I still cannot believe that this happened, with where we started and where we finished. There's so many stories. The journey was unbelievable. I think if you looked at us in February and March, even parts of April, you would never imagine us sitting here right now with trophies in front of us.

So proud of this group, their effort. It was team. We had 17 players on our roster, 17 players. Everybody had to contribute in some way or the other, and they did, and they bought in, and they just went for it. They weren't afraid. They didn't panic. They were fearless. I'm still speechless. It was incredible. It was incredible.

Q. Patty, one of your greatest assets is your ability to decipher a game and go with your gut off a game plan what you've got. Tell us about this pitching rotation you went with today because it won you a national title today.

PATTY GASSO: Well, we started with Paige (Parker), and she wanted the ball. I think Paige probably could tell you she didn't have her best stuff, but she is the reason why we're sitting here right now, and she knows that. I know she knows that.

To be able to give Mariah (Lopez) the ball, a freshman who's been waiting patiently, and for her to step up and do what we asked her to do in that setting was another reason why we're sitting here with a trophy. It's another reason why we're here, period.

Then we bring in Nicole Mendes, thinking this would be a good matchup. She can keep the ball down. She can mix her pitches. We can keep them off balance. So everybody had a game plan and needed to execute it, even if it was for one inning. Nicole Mendes did exactly what we asked her to do to set it up for Paige Lowary, and Paige Lowary came in, and she was hot. She was ready. She was really — you could see her — I don't know how hard she was throwing, but it looked like 100 miles an hour. The adrenaline was there and she was hitting her spots just so confident.

To see four pitchers pull this off is a dream come true for a coach because every one of them had a piece of this.

Q. Patty, you guys lost your first regional game to North Dakota State and were three outs away from elimination against Tulsa. How much did that change the course of your postseason, that comeback in those situations?

PATTY GASSO: It was everything. I want to send them a thank you card for waking us up, and they did. And that scare is almost what we needed to step forward and say we're not going home, not on our field. We're not going home.

We've had some magical moments in this postseason, and what Syd (Sydney Romero) and CC (Caleigh Clifton) and those guys coming with home runs and keeping us alive, that magic that happened at our field with our fans is something we grabbed on to and we just kept going.

Q. Paige Parker, last night you said that you were with Paige Lowary on every pitch. Today there were a couple of others. Just curious on if you feel the same connection with the other two.

PAIGE PARKER: Absolutely. I think the bond that our whole pitching staff has is something that is very, very special. I wanted to be with them every single pitch, and I wanted them to know that no matter what happened, I had your back. I'm just so proud of this pitching staff. We've come a long way this year, and we worked so, so hard, and huge credit to Coach Lombardi because she's the best pitching coach in the country, and she works harder than anyone I've ever seen, and I'm just so blessed to have her as my pitching coach.

Q. Kelsey, you were the captain on this team this year. You kind of led by example all year, and the other day Patty said you're kind of like the unsung hero of the team. Is that kind of how you led all year, just kind of leading by example?

KELSEY ARNOLD: I mean, it's a blessing. It's an indescribable feeling to win another national championship. I just want to let you all know that my teammates are leaders along with me. It's not just me by myself, and I believe that when we all came together, power of three, that's what you saw.

Q. Patty, you talked at times this year about you not having fun, that this team wasn't having fun playing together and that it was difficult at times. What made it fun out there? What changed to make it fun?

PATTY GASSO: I think once we figured out how to connect with each other — there was some disconnect within the team. We were feeling like we needed to repeat. That word was used a lot. We felt the pressure of being better, and that's not fun. That wasn't fun.

We finally got to a point where we said, enough is enough. We need to stop this right now because we're really not even close to being as good as we can. These guys figured it out about the end of March, early April, right when we were starting Big 12 play, and it just kept growing. Our win streak was moving. It was starting to move, and you could see we had lost to Baylor, and that loss made us better, and that's what I love about this team is they take losses and they learn and they make themselves better from it.

Q. Patty, is it safe to say this is your deepest staff in 23 seasons, and can you take us back to the day you found out Paige Lowary was headed your way?

PATTY GASSO: Well, it's the first time I heard about Uber; I remember that. I didn't know what Uber was. She was working at the Hall of Fame Stadium with the U.S. team, and we had set up a visit, and she took an Uber. She was broken. She was broken. And hearing her story, I'm going to tell you guys, you want to listen to this story because it is unbelievable that this kid right here is on the bottom of this dog pile. She was broken and didn't love softball, didn't want to pitch, and wanted a change. To see her growth as a pitcher and as a person has been so rewarding, and I'm telling you, to see her on the bottom of that dog pile and then — this pitching staff is so tight, the battery, (Lea) Wodach, Hannah (Sparks), they work very hard together. I'm glad we got her, and I'm glad she's loving pitching again. I don't know how much sweeter it could be than it is right now.

Q. Deepest staff ever?

PATTY GASSO: Deepest staff ever, yeah.

Q. Shay, you were nodding your head when Coach was talking about the team needed to wake up? Talk about why that needed to happen?

SHAY KNIGHTEN: I think at that point we kind of were settling, and we thought, OK, well, regionals, we can just roll through our regionals, roll through supers and get to the World Series. We thought it was that easy, and losing to North Dakota State was huge for us because we all had the wide eyes at that point. We were like, what just happened? And the fact that we all put our heads together, coaching staff, support staff, everyone, we knew that something had to change, and we figured it out, and we just went from there.

Q. Coach, just your thoughts on the offense being able to break through against what statistically was the nation's best pitching staff.

PATTY GASSO: If you could watch the connection that JT (Gasso) had with our hitters, they had plans. It was fun to watch all of it come together.

What I like about this team and our staff is we work as one. The pitching staff is right in the middle of the game plan. The hitters are right in the middle of the game plan. There's certain hitters that talk more than others, but they all are learning. This group right here will be great coaches because they're learning and they're contributing, and they had this plan, and they executed it. I'm proud of JT as well. My coaching staff is phenomenal. They work, and they connect. His plan and the execution of these hitters is another reason why we pulled this off.

Q. What you've done tonight, what you did tonight and what you did the last five years might make you — give you a right to say that Oklahoma is sort of now the center of the softball universe, at least the University of Oklahoma in college softball can be called that. Can you reflect on that or do you buy into that after the run that you're on?

PATTY GASSO: All I try to do is be the best coach I can for these players. When they commit to OU, I commit back to them. Our goal is to make them as great as I can. I don't buy into — we just want to win. If we're winning each year, that's great, and if we're not, we're going to try to win the next year. But we don't stake claim in being an elite program. We just play hard and we want to win. We won't own it. I know you want us to, but we won't own it. We're just going to keep working.

Q. Back-to-back nights with the game changing hit. Can you talk about being in that moment, and also is there a routine? How do you deliver in the clutch on back-to-back nights on the biggest stage?

SHAY KNIGHTEN: Being in those moments, I've just got to keep myself calm, just stay relaxed and just kind of not think about what if, just kind of go for it. And it paid off, but I just wanted to do everything for my team, and to finish this way is really cool.

Q. Paige Lowary, Coach Gasso says this time last year you were a broken pitcher. Can you even sum up all of the emotions that you're probably feeling right now compared to where you were a year ago?

PAIGE LOWARY: I can't believe it. I'm still very speechless, and it hasn't really set in yet, but I'm just forever grateful that I got the opportunity to come here, and I can't believe how close and tight this team is. I'm just so blessed and humbled and thankful and grateful. I don't have enough words to describe how I feel.

Q. Nicole, you jump started the game with your first at-bat. Talk about that and what you hit. Also, when you came in to pitch, you pitched well this year, but did you have an idea after last night that you might be out there today in the circle?

NICOLE MENDES: During my first at-bat, I just knew that I really wanted to get the momentum going, and whatever way it was, with a bunt, with a slap, with a hit, it didn't matter, but I just wanted to show my team that I was there for them and that I knew that they had my back. It just so happened to go over. And with pitching, it wasn't really, oh, I'm going to pitch this game, it was just kind of I'm going to warm up however I can and if they call me in, I'm going to do my best to fill that role.

Q. What was it about Oklahoma that you said, okay, I want to visit there?

PAIGE LOWARY: Everything seemed very real. What I saw was what I got. I trusted what they were saying, and I believed that they could change me, and I saw before my eyes. I just really can't believe it. I'm just so happy that they gave me a shot.

Q. Coach, you talked about it a little bit, but you guys started the regional losing to North Dakota State and you won four straight elimination games, then swept Auburn, then fight your way back to the national title game and played maybe the greatest game ever and then swept Florida. Is this the greatest postseason run you've ever been a part of?

PATTY GASSO: You know my phone will blow up from Lauren Chamberlain if I say. (Laughter).

I think it was probably the most unlikely from how we got started and what we were dealing with, and some tough things going on throughout. I make mention to the Nalepa family, Nicole Myers was a former player of mine who lost her child in a car accident, so you see our stickers since April just lifting up that family, and we really bought into that. That little Kelsey was our angel through this.

Through all of this, what we're doing is not focusing so much on trying to win games as much as just trying to lift others up, and when you're doing things like that, you're just not nervous. You just feel like you have a duty to do it. So we take on a lot of this platform to change lives, and I know that sounds cliché, but it's true. I think any one of these guys would tell you that this platform they're using to change lives, and softball just happens to be how we get to do it.

Q. Coach, you have had a lot of dominant left-handed pitchers. What is it about the left-handed pitcher that helps make Oklahoma so dominant?

PATTY GASSO: Any program in the country wants lefties on their staff. We've started it way back with Jill Most when I first got here, and it just kept growing and growing, and we became kind of like Lefty University. I think that is what attracted Paige and this Paige and Nicole and so forth and so forth. It's a lot to do with Coach Lombardi calling a great game and knowing how to manipulate or work the lefties in the strike zone, and she called a great game. Not that she can't deal with the righties because she can, but there's something about her magic with lefty pitchers that has won us championships.

Q. You talked a lot about kind of the ups and downs of the season, and I'm trying to understand, was it ever a matter of a lack of effort that you were saying? Was it a matter of a lack of focus? What were the actual challenges they were trying to overcome?

PATTY GASSO: At times there was a little lack of effort and we would fix that immediately. I think more than anything, it was just kind of an identity problem, like who are we, where are we going. We weren't real connected, and that's where Kelsey Arnold, even Paige Parker, Lea Wodach, Nicole Pendley, these guys stepped forward and said, let's figure this out. Let's really get this team on the same page. So we started doing more things together, but specifically Kelsey Arnold from what I know went out of her way to have dinner with everybody on the team, and she understood to be a good leader you have to have good relationships with those that you're leading. Kelsey Arnold wants to go to practice, go eat at Red Lobster and then go home and go to bed. That's her life.

And so for her to step away from that and spend time with teammates and make dinner for them and so forth, she is the glue. She was a big part of the glue that brought this team together.

Q. Coach, you talked about pressure this year, but you've got one senior in your lineup and you've got all your pitching back —

PATTY GASSO: Are you going to do that right now? Can I just tell you how much we hated that, and you're going to do that? We're not — we learned a lesson. We are good at learning lessons. We're not going to let this get in our way.

Q. You mentioned your lone senior. Can you talk about the significance of Macey to the team, her leadership, and then also you gave it a great effort to avoid the Gatorade bath tonight. Who was it that finally caught you?

PATTY GASSO: Well, let's go to the first part. Macey, I could tell you that as a coach you always want your seniors to go out the way that they want to go out. How else can you go out? She really elevated her game. She committed more to staying in the lineup, and she worked. To see her get in the lineup is something she's been waiting for for four years, so to see her crack it and get in there and help us — she made some great defensive plays. I think people just kind of take it for granted, but she's really saved our rear ends at times, and I'm really happy for her.

I don't know who got me. I started to see them surround me, so I just surrendered and took it, but it feels good. Feels great. It feels great.

POSTGAME NOTES
Championship Series Game 2: Oklahoma 5, Florida 4

  • No. 10 seed Oklahoma won its third NCAA title in the last five years, defeating No. 1 seed Florida, 5-4, on Tuesday. The Sooners are the first No. 10 seed to win the Women’s College World Series.
  • Oklahoma improves to 27-16 at the Women’s College World Series, while Florida falls to 25-14. OU ranks fourth in WCWS history with 27 wins at the event. The Sooners have won six straight and 12 out of their 13 games at the WCWS dating back to 2016.
  • Every WCWS Championship Series since 2011 has featured either Florida (2011, ’14, 15, ’17) or Oklahoma (2012, ’13, ’16, ’17). The Gators won the NCAA title in 2014 and 2015, while OU captured the crown in the 2013, 2016 and 2017.
  • Nicole Mendes’ leadoff home run in the bottom of the first put the Sooners ahead 1-0. It was the second home run for Mendes in WCWS Championship Series and her second career leadoff home run. The freshman also threw 1.0 inning of relief, giving up just one hit in her first appearance in the circle at the WCWS.
  • Florida shortstop Alexis Reynoso belted her third home run of the year, a solo blast to left field, to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the second. It was the first homer for Reynoso since March 19 at South Carolina.
  • The Gators tacked on two more runs in the second as Aleshia Ocasio’s single to right plated Justine McClean. Florida added its third run of the frame as OU reliever Mariah Lopez hit the Gators’ Kayli Kvistad with the bases loaded, scoring Amanda Lorenz.
  • With the bases loaded, OU’s Caleigh Clifton walked to trim Florida’s lead down to 3-2. After Clifton reached, Shay Knighten cleared the bases with a double to the right center gap to put OU up 5-3. In 11 games at the WCWS, Knighten has recorded 16 RBIs and is hitting .389 with three home runs.
  • Clifton finished 2-for-2 with one run scored and a RBI to lead the Sooners. It was the junior’s 17th multi-hit game of the season.
  • Florida cut the OU lead down to 5-4 as Alex Herndon recorded her fifth home run of the season with a solo homer to center field. Herndon finished with 1-for-3 with a run scored and a RBI.
  • Oklahoma freshman Mariah Lopez (18-1) earned the win in relief, tossing 2.1 innings and allowing just one run on one hit.
  • Paige Lowary earned her third save at the WCWS, pitching the final 2.0 innings and retiring all six batters she faced in order. Lowary’s three saves are the most in WCWS history. The junior recorded 11 saves during 2017, which is tied for the most by a pitcher in NCAA single-season history.
  • Lowary made four relief appearance at the 2017 WCWS, which is tied for the most in series history with Auburn’s Rachel Walters (2015) and Alabama’s Jackie Traina (2011). The junior’s 0.88 ERA is tied for the second-lowest ERA in WCWS history (minimum 10 appearances). Lowary finished four games at the WCWS, the most by a pitcher in series history.
  • Ocasio (8-2) took the loss, giving up four runs on four hits in 1.1 innings pitched. Delanie Gourley pitched the final 4.2 innings, allowing one run on four hits, while striking out five.
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