OKLAHOMA CITY — Patti Gasso is completely broken. For the first time in 364 days—when Oklahoma last won a national championship—the writer of the college softball premiere program was at a loss for words.
She survived the final of the Women’s World Series of Women’s Championships by defeating Texas on Thursday night, winning four titles in her last six tournaments without letting her emotions run wild.
She survived Jocelyn Alo’s curtain call, a touching final farewell to the best striker the sport has ever seen.
She survived confetti, trophies, hugs and a team photo in midfield.
But after she got through the dugout, walked out of the dressing room and sat down for the post-match press conference, she began to immerse herself in what happened, and then the tears finally began to flow.
And she was hooked by the question about the word with the letter “D” – “dynasty”. She blinked hard as the reporter asked, “When you hear this program mentioned in the same sentence as University of Connecticut women’s basketball, Alabama football, and the like, what does that do in your head?”
“I don’t seem to believe it,” she said.
She paused, trying unsuccessfully to regain her composure.
“I don’t know what to say,” she continued hesitantly. “I do not think so”.
It was all so unreal, she said. She caught herself looking at the post-game celebration like a fan.
“They don’t realize how good they are,” she said. “I don’t understand how good they are.”
How good? How about the best?
Gasso blamed the media for this, saying, “You guys all have stats.”
Fifty-nine wins and best average as well as the best ERA in collegiate softball this season speaks for itself. But if you look only at WCWS, Oklahoma holds the record for home runs (17) and runs (64). Looking at those pitiful three defeats on their own, consider what happened next: the Sooners won all three subsequent games thanks to the run rule and a 39-0 aggregate score.
“I could rate them very, very high, if not the highest, because everything they do seems so simple to me and they do it so quickly,” Gasso said, spitting out her own opinion in the end.
Oklahoma’s dominance showed in brilliant flashes – Texas’ 16-1 breakout in Game 1 that ended before it even started, or consecutive four innings that surged ahead and ripped out Texas’ soul in Game 2.
This came to the fore when Jayda Coleman rolled into center field on Thursday night, ran to the wall and jumped off a potential two-way homer. Afterwards, Coleman said, “What’s crazy is that we’re doing this all the time.”
Pitcher Jordy Bahl said, “Yeah, she’s seen her do it over and over and over.”
“She robbed me,” Alo said, casually adding, “It’s business as usual for her.”
And therein lies the greatness of this team: how they set the bar so high – and achieved it again and again – that the spectacle became common, expected, normal. Gasso had to admit that when it came to her star hitter, Alo, she even started expecting a home run in every fight. And she wasn’t that far away.
But not only Alo rethought slugging. Texas’ top hitters had 11 and 12 home runs, and no one else had double figures. Meanwhile, Oklahoma had six players with 13 or more home runs, including Grace Lyons (23), Tiare Jennings (29) and Alo (34).
Jenny Dalton-Hill was a key figure in the great teams from Arizona in the mid-1990s. She won three championships in four seasons. But she points to those big bats as crucial in any theoretical match-up of the best ever.
“I will always say that the 1994 Arizona was better because I was on that team, but I don’t know,” she said. “I think this team is probably more complete. This team has more power from top to bottom. I wish we could just say, “OK 1994 Arizona, you’re fighting Oklahoma 2022.” It had to be a video game because none of us could even run anymore.”
She laughed before turning serious again.
“I think this team, to be honest, could go down in history as the best team in the history of our sport.”
WHEN IN MARCH The quest for immortality began in the fall of 1994, there was no softball stadium in Oklahoma to call home. There was not even a special field. There was only Reeves Park and a dugout so small it couldn’t accommodate all of Gasso’s new players after she came to Oklahoma after five years at Long Beach City College in California.
Before training, they had to take charge of collecting used beer cans from the previous night.
“Trash everywhere,” Gasso recalled.
Young and ambitious, having left the center of the West Coast softball universe for her first Power 5 job over 1,300 miles away, Gasso put her head down and went looking for junior colleges in search of a fast influx of talent. But it was only a temporary solution. So she aimed higher and took aim at a left-handed pitcher from California named Lana Moran.
Lacking a rich program history and unencumbered by the fear of rejection, Gasso rushed forward. Her attitude: “Make them say no.”
Moran was the first big yes.
And then it was the likes of Lea Gulla, Amber Flores and Kaylani Ricketts.
“I fought tooth and nail to get them here,” Gasso said, “but that’s kind of how it all started.”
Gasso eventually hired Lauren Chamberlain, who was the most accomplished hitter of all time, as she retired and Oklahoma became a targeted program.
When the Sooners opened Marita Hynes Field in 1998, they couldn’t have predicted that they would soon outgrow it. Two years later, Gasso led the Sooners to their first WCWS and won everything. After that, they were a mainstay in Oklahoma City.
But in order to become the dynasty they are today, one more change had to be made. Gasso, who had to be ruthless to build something from scratch, realized she needed to pick up the pace. She had to learn to train smarter, not harder, and allow herself to do more than just softball.
And don’t you know that by putting her family first, smoothing her rough edges, she created the kind of family atmosphere that would attract Paige Parker, which would attract Jocelyn Alo, who would attract Tiara Jennings. Oklahoma has amassed talent like compound interest, producing a team this season that is so strong it’s unfathomable, with half a dozen All-Americans.
Gasso no longer has to push recruits until they say no.
“The difference that Patty Gasso has is visibility,” Dalton-Hill said. “She has created a brand that stands for excellence and a bar that has been raised above others. Thanks to social media, she is now able to recruit the right athletes before she ever got into a face-to-face conversation. with them.”
Before the start of this year’s NCAA Tournament, star freshman Jordi Bahl heard a snap in her right forearm and was immediately ruled out of the game. Without one of the Big 12 Pitchers of the Year, most programs would have plummeted. But Gasso has already provided help in the offseason with former North Texas ace Hope Trautwein, a senior transfer who once played a perfect 21-out game and won Conference USA Pitcher of the Year honors. Trautwein fit in perfectly in Oklahoma, finishing the regular season with a 0.09 ERA and making the transition from No. 2 softball pitcher to starter on the team.
Ball’s month-long absence was hardly perceived as a speed bump on the way to back-to-back national championships.
Reeves Park couldn’t hold them nearly three decades ago. Now Marita Hines Field can barely contain all of her star power.
So they are building again. In the parking lot about 50 yards from the left field fence, there is a sign advertising Love Field, a $42 million softball stadium and complex that is projected to be ready by 2024 and promises to start with 3,000 seats and keep expanding.
The only question is how they will honor Gasso on new grounds.
Legendary Oklahoma football coaches have statues outside the football stadium – Benny Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops – so the precedent is set.
“I’m sure it will happen to Patty,” Stoops said, “but I didn’t want mine until after I retired.”
She is sixty years old, and she is not going to slow down, it is not known when Gasso will decide to abandon the finely tuned machine she created.
STOOPS WON HIS the first national championship in 2000, the same year as Gasso.
“You know, I played three more and, unfortunately, lost everything,” said Stoops, laughing. “She played a lot of other games and won almost all of them.”
Self-deprecating jokes aside, Stoops knows what greatness looks like. A Hall of Famer himself, he knows what it’s like to play with a load of expectations. And to see what Gasso has created and how easily her team does it night after night, he can’t get over it.
He’s not a softball expert, he admitted, but he sees that this team has never lost their passion for the game and thinks Gasso pushed all the right buttons.
“Their emotional state is key to me,” Stoops said.
It’s Jayda Coleman starting the first game of the championship series with a brace and yelling in celebration in the dugout.
This is Alo running around the bases with his arms spread wide like an airplane, diving into the crowd of supportive teammates on the home court.
It’s Tylon Snow lining up and saying to Jana Jones, “Pick me up.”
“She goes out and hits a home run,” Snow said. “It’s great to see things like this happen.”
But to truly appreciate the dynamics of the Oklahoma team, one cannot help but notice the senior catcher who sacrificed himself for the good of the program.
Lynnsey Elam, a three-time captain, was the heart of Oklahoma.
Elam came to Oklahoma as a welcome recruit five years ago and has played as such since sophomore and junior. But when Gasso felt the need to cut time last season and bring fellow catcher Kinzie Hansen onto the pitch, Elam didn’t resist. Instead, she embraced a restructured role, made the most of her chances by hitting 14 home runs this season, and continued to lead…