Chelsea Alexander's promise to her coach, OU's run-rule narrative & best of WCWS media day
On a blistering June day in 2018, Alexander, OSU’s starting left fielder, unloaded softball equipment from team buses at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. She’d picked up a job helping the event staff at the Women’s College World Series after the Cowgirls lost in the Fayetteville Regional that year.
Hauling equipment for the eight teams was one of Alexander's job requirements.
“I’m carrying bags for teams that I just played against, and I don’t know if he remembers this, but I texted coach (Kenny Gajewski) after that and I was like, ‘We’re going to the World Series next year.’”
Alexander’s promise held true. The Cowgirls have returned to the WCWS for the third straight year, and Alexander hasn’t needed to haul opposing players’ gear since.
But the expectation is no longer to just make it. It’s now about winning it, and that mission begins 8:30 p.m. Thursday with a game against Arizona.
“I think every person on the team would say that, yeah, we can win this thing, and we’re confident in that,” third baseman Sydney Pennington said.
Pennington said the first year OSU made the trip the team knew they were good but felt lucky to be there. In 2021, the Cowgirls still questioned if they could win it. Now, they are confident in their ability to win the tournament, largely because of a change in mentality.
“We’re not satisfied being here anymore because that’s the standard that we’ve set,” Alexander said.
The past two WCWS have resulted in OSU winning its opening game, followed by losing its next two and being bounced from the tournament.
The past experiences have fueled the Cowgirls’ latest run, resulting in a more confident mental approach they expect to pay off.
“We’re going to win a national championship,” Alexander said.
OU looks to flip the script on run-rule narrative
More times than not, those who purchased tickets to OU softball games this season were able to attend and still make it home for supper.
They can thank the eight-run mercy rule for that.
The standard college softball game lasts seven innings, but it can end as early as the conclusion of the fifth inning if a team is leading by at eight runs. That stipulation is common knowledge for the Sooners, who have earned 38 run-rule wins this season.
Fewer innings mean fewer high-pressure situations, which could be seen as a disadvantage for OU's pitchers heading into a Women's College World Series opener against Northwestern at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
But the Sooners look at it in a different light. OU's pitching rotation is more rested than its competitors as the team eyes its second straight national championship.
"I was very concerned... like, concerned about the lack of innings," OU head coach Patty Gasso said. "But this pitching staff has been tested. Looking back, I think it is an advantage now that we're in the postseason. I feel that we are in a very healthy space from a pitching point of view."
A rested repertoire of OU pitchers is a dangerous sight for the field. The Sooners (54-2, 17-1 Big 12) have allowed one run or fewer in 46 games this season, and they boast a nation-leading 32 shutout wins.
"We feel fresh," sophomore pitcher Nicole May said. "This week was fine-tuning things and getting our bodies right. We do a lot to take care of ourselves, so coming in we're feeling good."
Here's a collection of news and notes from Thursday's media sessions:
'It's kind of scary':Even without Jordy Bahl, Sooners' pitching staff remains dominant
WCWS quick hits
► Texas infielder Janae Jefferson on playing in the same session as OU: “I’m not expecting us to get much support from the OU fans out here. We had plenty of our fans in Fayetteville (Arkansas), so I’m sure they’ll be just as loud out here.”
► UCLA and Northwestern’s academic calendar carries into the World Series, presenting a unique balancing act for the student-athletes. “I’m in a master’s program, and I actually have a 30-page paper due,” UCLA’s Briana Perez said.
► Northwestern head coach Kate Drohan on the impact of pitching coach Michelle Gascoigne, who played at OU from 2010-13: "She's a tremendous teacher of the game. I'm not just talking about as a pitching coach. Her wealth of knowledge around the game with her experience playing and also in the pro league has been tremendous for us."
► Florida's Skylar Wallace on how being ineligible last season due to an intra-conference transfer from Alabama made her a better leader: "Be the biggest supporter you can on the bench. I found a way to accept that and just get after it. It's a different role, and it changed me in a way to make me lead better now in this season and just be there for my team."
► OU's Jordy Bahl, Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Jocelyn Alo and Grace Lyons all earned a spot on the NFCA All-America first team.
► OSU's Kelly Maxwell also earned a spot on the All-America first team, while Miranda Elish landed on the second team.