Oklahoma's seniors have won the WCWS yearly. Can Patty Gasso and the freshmen keep their dynasty going?

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Fans within the outfield turned their gaze to left field as Oklahoma's Kelly Maxwell jogged out of the bullpen. With the Sooners just 4 outs away from the national championship, Maxwell's appearance was greeted with excitement and a collective deep breath.

The Sooners felt they already had their fate of their hands, but coach Patty Gasso pulled off yet one more ace to shut out that championship series against No. 1 Texas. Maxwell, who was later named the Women's College World Series Most Outstanding Player, did just that, leading the Sooners to an 8-4 victory, winning the championship series and making Oklahoma the primary team in college softball history to win 4 consecutive national championships.

Oklahoma is accustomed to this phase, however the players and Gasso will certainly indicate the challenges that include achieving this level of success time and time again. This season specifically, the pressure has increased, said veteran outfielder Jayda Coleman.

“Over time, when we lost a game or two games or lost to Texas, everyone had an opinion about us,” Coleman said. “It was frustrating to see everyone on Twitter and TikTok rooting for anyone but us.”

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She shrugged. “Well… that didn't happen, so…”

With eight national titles and 17 WCWS appearances since 2000, Oklahoma's dynasty has been within the making for a while. Over the last 4 national championship seasons, OU has compiled a record of 235-15.

Coaches Patty Gasso and Kelly Maxwell led Oklahoma to its fourth consecutive national title. (USA Today)

With the wins got here skepticism. Oklahoma has lost more games this season (seven) than it has since 2017. Texas dethroned the Sooners because the front-runner on this yr's NCAA Tournament for the primary time in 4 years. Skeptics identified that these were signs of vulnerability, while comments concerning the home-court advantage OU enjoys when it hosts the WCWS 20 miles up the road from campus sparked frustration and talk of rotating the event.

“It's probably the toughest coaching season I've had in a long time because of all the naysayers,” Gasso said. “It's hard to have a head that wears the crown, that's the only thing that really stood out. I heard someone say that. It really felt true. It was exhausting.”

But while the noise surrounding the team grew, Oklahoma maintained its identity on the sector.

“Whether you love us or hate us, I think you have to have a certain amount of respect for what we've done for softball and the women's sport,” said veteran pitcher Nicole May. “It's just crazy to see the growth of this sport and I just hope it continues to grow.”

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Texas coach Mike White pointed to Oklahoma's ability to “retool and continue to add quality players to their program” as one among the aspects that continually puts the Sooners at the highest. Freshman outfielder Kayden Henry and sophomore infielder Viviana Martinez pointed to the Sooners' experienced roster as the largest difference: Oklahoma's 10-man senior class has been the inspiration for each championship run.

That class includes Coleman, Tiare Jennings, Rylie Boone, Alyssa Brito and Kinzie Hansen, all of whom rank in the highest 10 in program history in profession batting average. The trio of Maxwell – who transferred to OU this season from rival Oklahoma State -, May and Karlie Keeney form the inspiration of the pitching staff. Infielder Alynah Torres and do-it-all player Riley Ludlam round out this dynastic graduating class. The five who’ve been at OU for the reason that starting of their careers – Coleman, Jennings, Boone, Hansen and May – have never made it through a postseason with no national title.

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“They're going to go down in history — not just at OU — but I would say personally, in the entire country as one of the best softball classes ever. I'm proud of that,” Gasso said. “It would be easy to say we've had enough. That's tough and we've had enough. But they're elite athletes. Whether they like it or not, they work hard and diligently.”

But what Gasso in-built Norman doesn't end together with her departure. That's where the freshmen are available. Ella Parker and Kasidi Pickering were the 2 freshmen who jumped into the starting lineup this season, and neither of them shied away from the postseason highlight.

Parker hit 3 for 4 within the Sooners' elimination game against Florida — and hit the game-winning RBI that sent the sport into extra time. She finished the season with a .415 batting average, one of the best on the team. Pickering hit a house run in every game of the championship series. Both freshmen were named to the WCWS All-Tournament Team.

“I give all the credit to the seniors,” Pickering said. “Every at-bat, a senior came up to me and talked to me and helped me improve my mindset for the at-bats to come, so I give everything to them.”

When asked if she felt pressured to take over what the seniors left behind, Pickering quickly replied, “No.”

Oklahoma is poised to maneuver to the SEC, which just sent all 13 of its softball teams to the NCAA Tournament. The realignment will introduce a brand new level of competition. The Sooners are also welcoming an eight-man class within the 2024 recruiting cycle that ranks first within the nation in keeping with Extra Innings Softball. Of course, an unprecedented fifth straight win can also be on the forefront.

“We need (the freshmen). They do a great job offensively,” Gasso said. “There are a lot of young pitchers watching and learning and waiting for their number to be called. The future will continue to be bright without those 10 seniors.”

Hansen, Keeney and Jennings will return as assistants next yr, Gasso said. But whilst the players who formed the dynasty move on, Gasso stays the figure behind every championship run.

“I'm ready to go back to coaching because I don't have to coach this,” Gasso said, pointing to the seniors next to her. “They know it. They've got it. They coach each other. I'm really excited about what's to come.”

Oklahoma's parade to the outfield on Thursday night to have fun with tears of their eyes and championship trophies of their hands felt each familiar and exhilarating. Like an ace entering the sport at an important moment, the last hurrah finally sounded. This chapter in OU's history ended with a way of accomplishment and relief at having made history once more.

“This one was definitely a little more sentimental for me. We grew up together,” Hansen said. “There was never a hero at the batting plate or on the mound or anything like that. This was a team effort. We battled all season. Everyone had something to say about us all the time. People wrote us off. It was just a tough battle. Everything mentally, physically. We battled all year. In that moment, it was all so worth it.”

image credit : www.nytimes.com