Tramel's ScissorTales: WCWS coaches marvel at how NCAA softball World Series has evolved
Kelly Inouye-Perez was 18 years old, playing for the Gordon Panthers of LaPalma, California, when she first saw Hall of Fame Stadium. Inouye-Perez and superstar Lisa Fernandez led the Panthers to the 1988 Junior Olympic Hall of Fame championship in Oklahoma City’s new softball venue.
Inouye-Perez, a catcher, remembers a picture that captured her celebrating on Fernandez’s back, with the scoreboard in the background.
“We thought, ‘Oh, my God, that is the biggest scoreboard we've ever seen,’” Inouye-Perez said. “It was just huge.”
The stadium then seemed so grand.
Inouye-Perez has returned many times to Hall of Fame Stadium. She’s been a multiple NCAA champion as a UCLA catcher (with Fernandez pitching), a multiple NCAA champion as a UCLA assistant coach and a multiple NCAA champion as UCLA’s head coach (now 16 years on the job).
And Inouye-Perez marvels at how the stadium and the Women’s College World Series have changed. Inouye-Perez was part of the first WCWS played in OKC, in 1990, and has her Bruins in the 2022 field.
She laughed about the old days, with kids by the dozens rolling down the grass berms down each base line. The stadium then seated 2,076.
Now it seats 13,000, with an upper deck and seats extending down the lines all the way to the outfield wall, and outfielder bleachers surrounding a giant scoreboard that dwarfs the original that Inouye-Perez thought was so huge so long ago.
“The stadium itself was nice, but to see what it's evolved to, the grass knolls to stands to bleachers now on the outfield,” Inouye-Perez said. “You remember coming back and seeing the bleachers in the outfield and going, ‘Oh, wow, now they're putting them in the outfield,’ and now I look up and say, ‘They're in the sky in the outfield. To see skyboxes, and it's just the evolution.”
The stadium and the event have turned into a completely different animal. Think of the difference between the county fair and DisneyWorld. That’s what’s become of the Women’s College World Series.
Inouye-Perez is one of three WCWS head coaches this year who also played in the event, joining Arizona’s Caitlin Lowe — who was a four-time All-American and back-to-back WCWS champion (2006-07) for UofA — and Oregon State’s Laura Berg, who led Fresno State to the 1998 WCWS title and is one of the greatest players in softball history.
“I have to say, it felt so grand back then,” said Lowe, who played at Arizona from 2004-07 and succeeded the legendary Mike Candrea as Zona’s coach last off-season. “This stadium felt so big and larger than life.
“It's crazy, because you look at it now with the triple deck, and it's just a whole different vibe. It gets better and better every year. I think the ratings get better and better every year. The competition gets better and better.
“It's just cool to see the sport grow. Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma really embraced this tournament and just make it an A-class event.”
Berg played long past Fresno State; she medaled for the U.S. in the first four Olympics in which softball was staged. She played in a variety of international events at Hall of Fame Stadium over the years.
“Oh, my gosh, where do I even start?” she asked about the venue’s evolution. “Remember the grass berm? What they've done to this facility is phenomenal. I mean, outside of the Olympic Games, this is the place to play. This is the place to be.”
But despite the stadium improvements, Inouye-Perez said the substance of the venue remains the same: opportunity.
"Nothing replaces my playing opportunities on this stage, and I think the greatest moments were just being on the stage and having great success,” Inouye-Perez said. “My saddest was the last day, because I thought it would be the last time I would be here in Oklahoma.”
But now Inouye-Perez has become a UCLA icon – part of every Bruin team since 1989 – and has been in OKC most years since, including 24 trips to the WCWS.
“I just walked down these stairs to the stadium to get down to this pressroom, and to see the changes to the stadium, to see the stands, to see just how much the NCAA and USA Softball, the city of Oklahoma have invested into this stadium to celebrate this championship, has been just phenomenal.
“The dugout now goes to locker rooms and there are bathrooms in the locker rooms. There's fieldhouses. I have been so fortunate to be able to see the evolution ... and I celebrate it every time.”
That’s what the Women’s College World Series is. A celebration. And those who were here in the early days can celebrate it most.
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James Dickey stood with his Texas Tech assistant coach, Doc Sadler, at a camp for junior-college basketball players in the early 1990s.
They were in La Junta, Colorado, scouting juco players.
During a scrimmage, an alley-oop pass sailed high through the air in the Otero College gymnasium, and Dickey muttered something about that ball headed over the backboard.
Then a 6-foot-7 forward leaped through the air, grabbed the ball and dunked.
“I told Doc, ‘We can’t leave here without a commitment from that guy,’” Dickey said.
That guy now is the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Darvin Ham turned into a difference-maker at Texas Tech, a journeyman NBA player and then a well-respected NBA assistant coach. Now Ham has his first NBA head coaching job, and it’s trying to turn the dysfunctional Lakers back into champions.
“I’m so proud of Darvin,” said Dickey. “Darvin was always a leader. Tremendous work ethic. Tough. Excellent in the locker room. And just had a tremendous focus.”
In 10 seasons at Tech, Dickey went 166-124. In four seasons at UofH, Dickey went 64-62. His overall record was 230-186. Dickey served on Sutton staffs at Arkansas, Kentucky and OSU.
Dickey was part of OSU’s 2004 Final Four team. But the best team he ever was a part of might have been his 1995-96 Tech team, in the Red Raiders’ final year in the Southwest Conference.
That Tech team went 30-2, lost 98-90 to Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 and was led by a variety of big-time ballplayers. Jason Sasser averaged 19.5 points. Cory Carr averaged 16.1. Koy Smith averaged 13.3. Center Tony Battie 9.7 points and 8.9 rebounds.
And Ham was the glue, playing big-time defense, averaging 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds, and shooting 58 percent from the field. Ham landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated in January 1996, for a backboard-breaking dunk against North Carolina.
“Explosive,” Dickey said of Ham, who hailed from Saginaw, Michigan. “We went to La Junta and just fell in love with him. He was just a tremendous leaper. He was very physical. Great defender. Could really run the floor. Was not a great shooter, but certainly could score.”
Alas, the Big 12 never got to see Ham on its courts. The Big 12 began play the year after Ham left Tech.
The Southwest Conference was an underrated basketball league. Arkansas was a national power before leaving for the Southeastern Conference in 1992. Houston was a national power in the 1980s. Texas under Tom Penders made the NCAAs in seven of its final eight SWC seasons. Southern Methodist in the 1980s had a variety of good teams.
And Texas Tech had that uprising under Dickey, who now has a protégé coaching the most famous basketball team in the world.
The List: Best players in NBA Finals
The NBA Finals begin Thursday night, and it never hurts to have the best player in a series. It also never hurts to have a majority of the best players.
Here’s my ranking of the 10 best players among the Celtics and Warriors:
1. Steph Curry, Golden State: Curry’s shooting threat changes the game. But Boston’s ability to switch defensively could limit Curry’s open 3-pointers, and the Warriors don’t have a ton of one-on-one talent. So the idea might be skewed that Curry is a cakewalk to win Finals Most Valuable Player.
2. Jayson Tatum, Boston: A first-team all-NBA pick this season, Tatum is a big-time scorer and showed in the Eastern Conference playoffs he’s quite a playmaker, too. But Tatum also had some disappearing acts. That won’t fly against the Warriors.
3. Al Horford, Boston: A wonderful player who never has gotten and still isn’t getting the acclaim he deserves. A good scorer and deep shooter, a great defender with the ability to play on the perimeter and a superb rebounder. Horford was the Celtics’ best player in the East finals against Miami.
4. Draymond Green, Golden State: Nobody outside northern California and the green precincts of Michigan likes Draymond, but he’s a world-class player. Probably the NBA’s best defender under 6-foot-11, plus a facilitator. Green can’t shoot a lick, but he’s surrounded by so much shooting, it’s not that big a deal.
5. Jaylen Brown, Boston: This is a rather intriguing Finals if Brown is the fifth-best player. A 2021 all-star, Brown the last two seasons has averaged 24.1 points a game and shot 37.6 from 3-point range. When both he and Tatum are playing well, Boston is difficult to beat.
6. Marcus Smart, Boston: Smart is a better shooter than you think – 32.1 percent from 3-point range in his career; 33.1 percent this season and 33 percent in these playoffs – but that’s only because you think he stinks. And Smart does everything else well. The NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The Celtics’ point guard, who this year curtailed his turnovers to the lowest of his career. A fighter on the boards. A winning ballplayer in every regard. Boston’s answer to Draymond.
7. Andrew Wiggins, Golden State: Wiggins has shined in his first playoff run. Wiggins entered this season having played five playoff games total, for Minnesota back in 2018, but in 16 games for the Warriors has averaged 15.8 points while shooting 48 percent from the field and playing some stellar defense. He’s been more valuable than Klay Thompson in this post-season.
8. Klay Thompson, Golden State: Still a premier shooter, Thompson’s 38.5 percent from 3-point range this season was the first time in his career he’s been under 40 percent. Thompson has shot 39.9 percent in these playoffs. Still has the ability to get hot and be the Thompson who took out the Thunder in that historic Game 6 six years ago. But Thompson’s injuries have robbed him of some of his defensive prowess.
9. Robert Williams, Boston: A difference-making defender as a rim protector and a corner-3 protector – Williams leaping to block jump shots has been one of the highlights of these playoffs. But he isn’t fully healthy, and Golden State’s unique lineups could force Williams off the floor.
10. Jordan Poole, Golden State: A breakout star for the Warriors, not in these playoffs, but in this season. Poole averaged 18.5 points a game during the season and has averaged 18.4 in the postseason. His shooting has improved in the playoffs, from 36.4 percent from deep in the regular season to 39.3 percent in the postseason.
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OCU, Rogers State add to Oklahoma softball success
We’ve talked a lot about Oklahoma being Softball Central. But we don’t just mean the Sooners and Cowgirls.
Those teams are heating up the Women’s College World Series this week at Hall of Fame Stadium, but they are only hoping to achieve what Oklahoma City University and Rogers State achieved this week.
Win a national championship.
Rogers State on Tuesday beat Cal State-Dominquez Hills 6-1 in Denver to win the NCAA Division II title, and OCU on Wednesday beat the University of Mobile 3-0 in Columbus, Georgia, to win the NAIA title.
Rogers State’s victory was historic – the first national championship in Hillcats history.
OCU’s victory was historic, too – the Stars’ 11th national softball championship, all under legendary coach Phil McSpadden.
“There’s no words to express what he’s done for our program and our team all five years I’ve been here,” said OCU star Kennedy Jackson of Moore. “We’ve had rollercoaster rides, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The thing I would take away from him as my coach is he was in every single game for us, win or lose, he was right there. He’s an amazing man.”
McSpadden, who became OCU’s coach in 1988, has an all-time record of 1,843-399 over 35 years. The Stars also won NAIA national titles in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2016 and 2017. OCU also reached the national finals six other times (1986, 1993, 1999, 2010, 2012, 2019). That’s 17 national-finals appearances in 35 seasons.
McSpadden said when people see his teams play, “I want to believe they see kids who are students of the game and passionate about what they do. I always use the expression ‘it’s a classroom on the field.’ You’re hoping it’s not about someone standing in the third-base box just clapping their hands and saying, ‘It’s OK, girls, we’ll get them tomorrow.’
“That we’re intense and we play hard and play the way it’s supposed to be played. I hope that people see these kids are having fun in the process.”
The Stars, 54-6, certainly had fun in Columbus, notching their second victory over No. 1-ranked Mobile in a three-day span.
In the finals, Shelbey Cornelson pitched a six-hitter for OCU, raising her record to 37-3, with her 11th shutout. The junior from Tuttle was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player; she notched every post-season decision for the Stars, going 12-1 with a 0.42 earned run average and 76 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings, with five shutouts. Cornelson allowed just one run in four NAIA World Series games.
Lexi Duff, a senior from Lone Grove, hit a two-run single in the first inning of the finals that provided more than enough support for Cornelson. Jackson’s RBI single in the fourth inning made it 3-0.
Amy Crabaugh, a junior from Edmond North and the daughter of OCU baseball coach Denney Crabaugh, had three hits for OCU. Brooklyn Mason, a senior from Lone Grove, had two hits. So did Tiffany Paul, a rookie from Choctaw.
Duff, Jackson, Cornelson and Rally Radacy, a rookie from Lookeba-Sickles, made the all-tournament team.
Sciences & Arts of Oklahoma made the NAIA semifinals and placed three on the all-tournament team – Emily Cerney of Newcastle, Sierra Selfridge of Mustang and Macenzie Ruth of Sulphur.
Meanwhile, in Denver, Abbey Rogers broke a scoreless tie with a two-run single in the fourth inning as Rogers State went on to beat Cal State-Dominguez Hills. Rogers, a rookie from Carl Albert, came to the plate with the bases loaded, the third such opportunity for the Hillcats.
“I just knew we needed a run,” Rogers said, according to the Claremore Progress. “You just have to play like it’s your last game every time.”
Rogers State ace Andrea Morales, a senior from El Paso, Texas, allowed a run in the first inning but blanked the Toros the rest of the way. Rogers’ two-run single scored Callie Yellin and Rebecca Bell.
Morales, a fifth-year senior, finished 2022 with a 38-4 record.
“There is nothing that can describe seeing our vision come to reality, it’s just mind-blowing,” said Rogers State coach Andrea Vaughan. “We have been talking about this since … last fall. I told them then that we have had a lot of great teams come through RSU, but this team has all the pieces to go out and win a national title.”
Your turn, OU and OSU.
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Mailbag: Kevin Durant’s value to Warriors
In the Tuesday ScissorTales, I wrote about Kevin Durant’s legacy being further tarnished by Golden State’s return to the NBA Finals. Not all agreed.
Joel: “I noticed your tweet regarding the Warriors pre- and post-KD and how that affects his legacy. I guess I see it differently. While the Warriors have won a lot of games since 2014, they only won one title pre-KD and none (yet) post-KD. And the 2015 title was significantly impacted by key injuries (especially affecting the Cavs). So, if the point is KD was sort of immaterial to their success, that doesn’t seem right. They were clearly a generational team with him and just very good without. My two cents.”
Tramel: It’s a valid point, when you look from the Golden State point of view. It wasn’t like the Warriors didn’t want Durant. They clearly sought Durant, because they knew what that meant for the franchise. Automatic titles.
And that’s the point. Golden State indeed had to fight to win the 2015 NBA title without Durant, and the Warriors were upset in the 2016 NBA Finals (pre-Durant) by Cleveland. They’ve battled injuries since the 2019 NBA Finals, and now they’re back on the cusp of another NBA championship, sans Durant.
But Durant joining the Warriors doesn’t change Durant’s legacy. A great player joined a great team — the 2015-16 Warriors were 73-9! — and they got greater. Of course they got greater.
If Rogers Hornsby had joined the 1927 Yankees, would that have elevated Hornsby’s status? I don’t think so. Hornsby was a great, great hitter. The 1928 Yankees would have been unstoppable with him. But that wouldn’t have made Hornsby some kind of champion for the ages. He would have been a superstar who joined a superteam.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.