Oklahoma Championship Series Game 1 Press Conference
2017 Women's College World Series
Monday June 5, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma – 7, Florida – 5
Oklahoma interview with Patty Gasso, Paige Lowary, Paige Parker, Fale Aviu, Shay Knighten, and Nicole Mendes.
PATTY GASSO: Epic, epic battle. I don't know what else — that was it. This is one of the greatest games I think in College World Series history, I would guess. It was like two heavyweight fighters throwing punch after punch. Florida just kept answering everything that we put out there, and we tried to answer back, and it was a game of will, a game of team, a game of character. We were running out of gas a little bit, but they just kept fighting. I could not tell you — I will never forget the pitching duo here and how they tag-teamed. It was an emotional, emotional roller coaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget.
Q. Patty, as that game continued, can you give us an idea what you were telling your team through that, especially if you would throw a hey maker and they would counter punch?
PATTY GASSO: I think all of us coaches were just like, ‘hang in there, keep fighting, keep fighting,' and that's been what got us here. And almost — although our backs aren't against the wall for our season to be over, it started to feel like that, like we just — just survive, survive, survive, just keep surviving. It was crazy. They just kept going, both teams. Both teams, not just ours. Both teams just kept going, kept playing hard.
Q. Patty, the fact that this game went 17 but the quality of this game, I mean, there wasn't — that sort of thing wasn't out there. How do you put that into context with all the softball at that you've seen over the years and the stakes on the field tonight and the manner with which these two teams played?
PATTY GASSO: Like I said, I think it was just an epic battle, two teams that know the importance of winning this first game and putting everything out there. That's it in a nutshell. No one wanted to walk off that field losing, and that's what it felt like for 17 innings. It never stopped.
Q. Paige Lowary, you guys talked about being little girls and dreaming of being in this situation. What did that feel like for you with the crowd on their feet cheering you on?
PAIGE LOWARY: As crazy as it sounds, I try to keep the same mindset every time I go out on the field because if I make it too big, it just gets out of control, so I just tried to focus on the pitch that I was throwing.
Q. Shay and Nicole, twice in extra innings you guys took the lead and twice they came back. How were you guys able to stay poised after they came back and tied up with you guys?
SHAY KNIGHTEN: I think we just kind of stuck together. We knew that they were going to punch, and it was up to us to kind of punch back and want to fight back and not want to back down. And an extra innings game like that is crazy, and in the World Series it's even crazier and insane, but we just kind of stuck together and knew that we weren't going to be denied and we were going to leave it all out there.
NICOLE MENDES: We just kind of came up there with a mindset that we weren't going to be denied, that we were going to have the will to win, that there was no way that we were going to walk off that field with any ounce of regret, and we just kind of left blood, sweat and tears out there on the field.
Q. Shay, just as a batter, how do you stay focused when it's inning after inning and it's those two pitchers, going back and forth between them? How do you stay focused and sane out there?
SHAY KNIGHTEN: I just kind of think to myself, you can do this, just stick to your mechanics, stay within yourself, do it for your teammates and not try to be too big, not try to be the hero. And I was just thinking one pitch at a time, just focus one pitch at a time and something will happen.
Q. Coach, talk about the chess match of pitcher to pitcher being in the circle and making the right move at the right time, going back and forth with Lowary and Parker.
PATTY GASSO: Well, I think it was probably a surprise to some that we started Paige Lowary, but it was a team decision. It was a pitching staff, coaching staff decision. These two were right with us when we talked about it, and then we presented it to the team and they were all for it.
I loved what she did, and I loved what Paige (Parker) did, and I loved what Paige Lowary did to come back in, and you saw Florida doing the same exact thing. We were almost mirroring each other in what our strategies were. It was an emotional roller coaster for both of them. They came in and I felt like, I could have shut that down. It was highs and lows, and for Paige Lowary especially to finish on the note that she did, it was to me the highlight of our season.
Q. Paige Lowary, two thoughts as you were walking back onto the field from the bullpen, the bases loaded and the big situation there, and then the last strikeout, will you take me through your mind in those two situations?
PAIGE LOWARY: When I first came back in, I was just thinking that I'm kind of coming back in like a closing role, Paige Parker has pitched seven innings, so it's kind of like I'm closing another game, so I just tried to have a closing mindset with that, and then the last strikeout I just wanted to hit my spot and I visualized her swinging over it, and it went where it needed to go.
Q. Parker, just talk about being in the moment, going from one emotion to the other in the game, out of the game, watching from the dugout and then being out in the circle.
PAIGE PARKER: I think it's just staying locked in no matter where you are in the game, if you're in the circle or if you're in the dugout. It's just staying locked in constantly. I wanted to stay with Paige (Lowary) every single pitch. Whenever I was in the dugout, and I could feel her with me every single pitch whenever I was on the mound.
I think just trying to be level-headed and stay locked in constantly is the key whenever you have those kinds of situations.
Q. How did you handle dealing with the pitching matchups knowing that you've got potentially maybe even two more games after this one and you've got Mariah Lopez who's fresh and you've got Nicole Mendes who's fresh?
PATTY GASSO: I can't even answer that right now because I've got to check in on these guys —
Q. I meant during the game.
PATTY GASSO: During the game?
Q. How do you manage the two pitchers knowing that you've got to pitch two more games —
PATTY GASSO: I've gotcha. I was just going with what was hot and what we thought would be effective. So to put two freshmen out there right now in this heated battle just didn't seem fair to them at that moment, so I just stuck with these two and their experience.
Q. Nicole and Fale, what was it like being a part of a game like this, just knowing the stage that you ladies are on and what you're trying to accomplish? What was it like being a part of tonight that will go down as one of the greatest games ever played?
FALE AVIU: It was a fun game overall. It was a dogfight back and forth. Our team was not going to be denied, and we felt the power of three with our fans out there, with their hands up, and that was a good feeling to see everybody had each other's backs, everybody was going to be a leader and no one was going to give up.
NICOLE MENDES: I just will never forget this game as long as I live. I don't think I'll ever play in a game like this ever again. It was an honor to be a part of, and I think I speak for the whole team whenever I say that it was with the power of three and it was with the will to win and determination, and I think that Florida is a great team, and I think that it was a great battle.
Q. Paige, you've said that you enjoy the closer role and you've adapted to that. How do you change your mindset starting this game, and Paige Parker, you kind of reversed roles. How do you handle that?
PAIGE LOWARY: I mean, we talked about it as a pitching staff and a coaching staff this morning, and we came to the decision that I was going to start this morning and I just tried to keep the same mindset, I guess, just take it one pitch at a time and stay in the moment, and I don't know, just fight. I wanted to do it for everyone.
PAIGE PARKER: I would agree with Paige. It's just kind of keeping the same mindset of just trying to win every pitch, and I think earlier in the season we had some situations where Paige started and I came in to close, and I think that that was like a good thing to go back to of how that felt, and just trying to channel those experiences helped us today, I think.
Q. Patty, when you said you guys came to a determination this morning, what was it that you guys decided to start Paige (Lowary), what were kind of the factors in that?
PATTY GASSO: The history of how we've used Paige Parker was just starting every game, so I thought, what the heck, let's try — we felt like (Kelly) Barnhill was going to come out, so it was two flame throwers going at it. It was good old fashioned softball, so that's kind of what we — it was good to see them go against each other. That's kind of what we felt might happen. I think they may have been really planning for Paige Parker, so it was just throwing a wrench in there.
Q. Shay, this is for you. They battled back after Nicole's (Mendes) home run and then Fale's (Aviu) home run they battled back. Your home run gave you the biggest lead of the night. Did you kind of get a sense that maybe that was a back breaker, kind of the third-time-is-a-charm type deal, and also can you talk about the pitch? Was it something you were looking for? What were you thinking as you left the yard?
SHAY KNIGHTEN: Well, you can never think anything is a back breaker or anything with a team like Florida. Like they did all game, they came back. We were going to fight for whatever we could, and in my at-bat, I was just looking to find a pitch in the zone that I could hit hard. I wasn't looking for really a particular pitch. It was just something — I knew she was throwing hard, so it's just get there, just get there, and if it was in the zone, I was going to swing.
Championship Series Game 1: Oklahoma 7, Florida 5
- No. 10 Oklahoma outlasted No. 1 Florida 7-5 in the first game of the 2017 WCWS Championship Series on Monday night in 17 innings. OU first baseman Shay Knighten’s three-run blast in the top of the 17th gave the Sooners the lead for good.
- The 17-inning contest is the longest game in WCWS Championship Series history. The previous record was 12 innings when Oklahoma defeated Tennessee, 5-3, in game two of the 2013 WCWS Championship Series. Monday’s game was the sixth extra inning game in WCWS Championship Series history. Thirteen innings was the longest game to take place between two teams playing for the NCAA Championship (1984, Texas A&M vs. UCLA, pre-WCWS Championship Series era).
- Oklahoma improves to 26-16 at the Women’s College World Series, while Florida falls to 25-13. With the win, the Sooners move into sole possession of third place in all-time WCWS wins. Oklahoma and Florida entered the night tied with 25 wins apiece. The Sooners have won five straight and 11 out of their 12 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 and 2016.
- Florida third baseman Alesha Ocasio put the Gators in the front 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, plating Nicole DeWhitt who doubled with to the right-field gap.
- The Sooners quickly responded in the top of the fifth as Sydney Romero’s RBI single scored Nicole Pendley to tie the game at 1-1. Pendley doubled to right center with one out for OU’s first hit of the game.
- Nicole Mendes gave OU the lead with a solo shot to right field in the top of the sixth, her sixth homer of the season. Mendes is the third freshman for OU to hit a home run in the WCWS Championship Series, joining Lauren Chamberlain (2012) and Sydney Romero (2016).
- Down to its last out, Florida tied the game at 2-2 as Sophia Reynoso doubled to score Aleshia Ocasio in the bottom of the seventh. It was Reynoso’s sixth double of the season and her 26th RBI.
- OU’s Fale Aviu sent a two-run shot, her first homerun of the postseason, over the right-field fence in the top of the 12th inning to put the Sooners up 4-2, but Florida’s Amber Lorenz responded with a double lined to left in the bottom of the inning to score two and knot the game at 4-4.
- In the top of the 17th, Knighten homered to left field, also scoring Mendes and Caleigh Clifton, to give Oklahoma a 7-4 advantage. Lorenz struck again with a sac fly to left field to plate Lily Mann.
- Florida starting pitcher Kelly Barnhill (26-4) took the loss, tossing 9.0 innings and allowing a season-high five runs on six hits, while striking out 10. Barnhill allowed her first home run since May 7 (North Texas) when Mendes hit her solo blast in the sixth. Barnhill re-entered the game and pitching the final two innings for the Gators, giving up the home run to Knighten.
- Monday’s game marked just the second time this season that Barnhill allowed three or more earned runs in a contest (3, at Florida State, May 3).