'Our defense made us': How OU, with NCAA softball's scariest offense, won its sixth WCWS title
It just took a while for everyone else to know it.
Jayda Coleman felt it, after robbing Texas' Courtney Day of what would’ve been a three-run homer in the first inning.
So did Jordy Bahl, letting out one of her primal screams in the circle as she watched Coleman haul in the ball that seemed destined to clear the wall in left-center.
So did Sooners coach Patty Gasso in the OU dugout.
So did Longhorns coach Mike White, watching helplessly from just off third base as his hitters bashed the ball over the field but could only manage two first-inning runs.
The Sooners didn’t tie the game for 45 minutes. Didn’t take the lead for about 80 minutes.
But Coleman’s early heroics set the tone in OU’s eventual 10-5 win over Texas that gave the Sooners their sixth national championship and second consecutive.
“I have seen Jayda do that over and over and over in practice," Bahl said," but when it’s in a game and she has your back, as well as everyone else on our defense, that stuff fires me up more than any strike out ever will.
“It gives us momentum and really just lets me take a deep breath because they got me.”
It wasn’t just Coleman.
Sooners shortstop Grace Lyons had a diving stop of a Mary Iakopo hard bouncer that seemed destined for left field in the third inning and Tiare Jennings somehow turned the throw around quick enough to get Iakopo at first for a double play to end the inning.
“The defense is what really created this momentum for us over and over until we could find a way to get on the board,” Gasso said.
Bahl, operating at 60% according to Gasso, was out of sorts early.
Texas squared off on Bahl in the first, loading the bases in the first, but Rylie Boone and Coleman tracked down balls at the wall.
Both wound up being sacrifice flies, giving the Longhorns a 2-0 lead.
But then Coleman sized up Day’s high fly ball, timing her leap perfectly to rob the Texas star of the home run and ending the threat.
Bahl’s troubles weren’t completely done, but she settled in after Coleman’s heroics and Texas didn’t score again until the seventh.
After Wednesday’s 16-1 Sooners’ win, White said his team needed to put plenty of runs on the board to have a chance at beating OU.
A 5-0 first-inning lead would’ve gone a long way toward White’s stated minimum of seven runs.
Instead, the Sooners remained well within striking distance.
“Those are missed opportunities,” White said. “Because you know they’re going to come back and fight tough. They make adjustments at the plate.”
While OU was making highlight-worthy plays all over the field, Texas couldn’t match.
A throwing error by Longhorns’ third-baseman Mia Scott allowed the Sooners’ first run to come around in the third. Moments later, Taylon Snow delivered an RBI single for another unearned run to tie the game.
Then came the avalanche.
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OU added four more in the fifth — highlighted by Kinzie Hansen’s three-run home run — to go up 6-2.
Then the Sooners scored four more in the sixth, with Lyons coming through with a three-run shot for OU’s 17th home run of the WCWS, breaking the record of 15 the Sooners set last season.
Even with a little let up by OU at the end — Scott hit a three-run home run off Hope Trautwein with two outs in the seventh — the Longhorns couldn’t get to White’s magic number, not that it would’ve been enough anyway.
The Sooners’ defense struggled at times early in the season, making uncharacteristic errors and just not coming up with game-changing plays at key moments.
Not that it mattered, with what OU was able to do offensively and with the 1-2-3 combination of Bahl, Trautwein and Nicole May in the circle.
But the Sooners came together defensively late in the season and carried it into the postseason.
OU had just three errors in the WCWS — the only errors the Sooners committed in 11 NCAA Tournament games. Texas had seven errors in just the three games against OU alone.
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“I told the team before we even started in the tournament, ‘defense plays a huge role,’” Gasso said. “Now hitting, timely hitting, pitching (are important), but defense can make or break you.
“This tournament, our defense made us.”
As Gasso watched Jennings field Alyssa Washington’s grounder and throw to Snow for the final out, she tried to soak it all in.
The Sooners played the season with the weight of expectations after bringing almost all of last year’s record-setting offense back and adding Bahl and Trautwein as dominant arms.
But Gasso said she’d leave the comparisons between her now six championship teams — and every other team to win a title — to others.
“It’s surreal,” Gasso said. “The game goes by fast, and there’s highs, and there’s lows. You just watch. I sit back like a fan. That’s what I do. I sit and watch, and it’s just prideful to see these guys do that, to see them get emotional like I am right now.
“They don’t realize how good they are. Maybe I don’t realize how good they are. Everybody asks us, and we just play. We just play. We love to have fun and love to play.”
WCWS championship series schedule
Best-of-three series between OU and Texas:
Game 1:Oklahoma 16, Texas 1
Game 2: Oklahoma 10, Texas 5
Previous NCAA softball champions
2021: Oklahoma (56-4)
2020: Canceled due to pandemic
2019: UCLA (56-6)
2018: Florida State (58-12)
2017: Oklahoma (61-9)
2016: Oklahoma (57-8)
2015: Florida (60-7)
2014: Florida (55-12)
2013: Oklahoma (57-4)
2012: Alabama (60-8)
2011: Arizona State (60-6)
2010: UCLA (50-14-1)
2009: Washington (51-12)
2008: Arizona State (66-5)
2007: Arizona (50-14-1)
2006: Arizona (54-11)
2005: Michigan (65-7)
2004: UCLA (47-9)
2003: UCLA (54-7)
2002: California (56-19)
2001: Arizona (65-4)
2000: Oklahoma (66-8)
1999: UCLA (63-6)
1998: Fresno State (52-11)
1997: Arizona State (61-5)
1996: Arizona (58-9)
1995: UCLA (50-6)
1994: Arizona (64-3)
1993: Arizona (44-8)
1992: UCLA (54-2)
1991: Arizona (56-16)
1990: UCLA (62-7)
1989: UCLA (48-4)
1988: UCLA (53-8)
1987: Texas A&M (56-8)
1986: Cal State Fullerton (57-9-1)
1985: UCLA (41-9)
1984: UCLA (45-6-1)
1983: Texas A&M (41-11)
1982: UCLA (33-7-2)