'Just that good': Sooners put on show in college softball's first network broadcast

Jenni Carlson
Oklahoman

NORMAN — Nicole Mendes backpedaled hard toward the right-field wall.

Sooner Nation held its breath as she tracked the ball screaming toward her. But when the Oklahoma outfielder reached the warning track, she leaped and looked like she had made the play a million times before. The ball nestled in her glove just before she crashed into the wall.

Ballgame over.

Ticket punched.

OU 9, Washington 1.

The Sooners are headed back to the Women’s College World Series after a five-inning, run-rule victory over the Huskies on Saturday. It was a glorious day for Patty Gasso and Co., who will be making their fifth consecutive trip to Oklahoma City.

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Nicole Mendes catches the ball for the out to seal OU's 9-1 win against Washington in Game 2 of their NCAA softball super regional Saturday in Norman.

But on an afternoon college softball made its network television debut, ABC couldn’t have picked a better game.

The Sooners put on quite a show.

Gasso credited the crowd, a sellout that not only filled every nook and cranny of Marita Hynes Field but also spilled into an overflow area beyond left field. Dubbed “Home Run Village,” another thousand or so folks congregated there to watch on a massive big screen.

“It was an environment that has never been here before,” Gasso said. “It took us to a whole other level.”

That level may well scare the rest of the softball world.

Everyone knows this is a good team. The Sooners have been ranked No. 1 most of the season, then snagged the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, they weren’t supposed to completely and totally dominate the Huskies in this super regional.

Win it?

Sure, that seemed possible for OU.

OU's Jocelyn Alo (78) gestures as she runs past Washington's Sis Bates (22) after hitting a home run in the fourth inning Saturday.

But make short work of the best-of-three series? Run rule the Huskies in the second game? Smash through Washington ace and national player of the year candidate Gabbie Plain? Hold the Huskies to just three runs combined?

That seemed far fetched against a Washington team that has been ranked in the top five much of the season and was believed to be one of the most underseeded teams in NCAA Tournament history. This was a team good enough to make the WCWS.

But the way OU dominated, it’s now clear — this is a team good enough to win it all.

“We just came out here and we did our thing,” Sooner slugger Jocelyn Alo said. “There’s nothing more to it.

“We were just that good.”

Saying things like that isn’t bragging if you can back it up — and the Sooners definitely did.

It started with their offense Saturday just as everything has this season. 

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Four batters into the game, OU had scored a run. Tiare Jennings led off with a double, then Alo smacked a single up the middle, and that seemed to rattle Plain, who may well play for Team Australia in this summer’s Olympics. Even though she got an out on the next batter, a couple pitches later she threw a ball to the backstop. The wild pitch scored Jennings.

“I felt like once we came out, we scored early, you could just feel momentum,” Gasso said. “It would be hard for anyone to play in that.”

The Sooners would score a run in every inning and blast three home runs, upping their season total to 146. While Alo and Kinzie Hansen hit opposite-field lasers, Jana Johns had the day’s biggest smash. It didn’t just clear the left-field fence — it cleared a second fence that surrounds the outfield bleachers.

The homer had to have flown at least 250 feet, and if it had been a little more to the left, the ball might’ve taken out a couple bulbs on OU’s scoreboard.

But as impressive as the OU offense was, its pitching was every bit as good. Shannon Saile threw a complete game, striking out five, walking one and scattering four hits. 

“We really want teams, if you’re going to score off us, you got to earn it,” Gasso said. “And Shannon really did a great job today with that.

“She's hungry, and she took the ball, and she just brought it.”

On a day with such high-level play, it was fitting the Sooners closed out the game with a highlight-worthy defensive play. Gasso was like every other crimson-and-cream fan when she saw the ball hit toward right.

“Oh, geez, that’s going,” she thought.

But instead, Mendes punctuated this game the only way it deserved to be — with an exclamation point.

“It really showcased our program and our team and the university in a wonderful light,” Gasso said of the game. 

“I hope people enjoyed it.”

How could they not?

Unless, of course, they have to play the Sooners next week in Oklahoma City.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.