Oklahoma did more than win a softball national title the other night.
It made a statement.
Having won the first game of the best-of-3 championship series but still needing to beat Tennessee one more time, the Sooners sat their ace. Keilani Ricketts didn't pitch. Michelle Gascoigne did.
And the Sooners rolled anyway.
What a closing argument for being the greatest college softball team ever.
These Sooners had one of the most dominant seasons that the sport has ever seen. They finished with a 57-4 record, including an undefeated run through the postseason. They outscored opponents by a whopping 402 runs, including a run differential of 75 in 10 postseason games.
Roll that last stat around in your head a bit. Even as the competition got tougher, this team still outscored teams by an average of 7.5 runs a game.
That's like winning by 30 or 40 points in basketball or five or six touchdowns in football. And that's the Sooners' average during the postseason.
“It's a team that has all the pieces together, which is hard to do in today's world,” legendary coach Mike Candrea said. “Very good pitching. Very good pitching depth. Then offensively, there's just a great combination of speed and power.”
The man who coached two Olympic teams and just finished his 28th season at Arizona was impressed with OU's consistently high level of performance. Even among his eight national championship teams, he still saw many of them struggle to be dominant the entire season.
“That's a challenge,” he said. “It seems like (OU has) always had someone different step up.”
“But I don't think you can look beyond the leadership of Keilani.”
Sooner ace Keilani Ricketts is where you begin the debate about OU's place among the greats. She finished the season 35-1 with a 1.23 ERA. She overpowered hitters one minute, baffled them the next.
She was a force in the circle.
Every great team has a pitcher who is. UCLA '92 had Lisa Fernandez, Arizona '94 had Susie Parra, UCLA '99 had Courtney Dale and Amanda Freed, Arizona '01 had Jennie Finch, and Arizona State '11 had Dallas Escobedo.
Those historically great teams also had big-time offenses. With the exception of '92 UCLA, all of them scored 400-plus runs.
OU's total this season: 476.
The Sooners have an offense built around power with national home run leader Lauren Chamberlain leading things off. She was followed by three sluggers — Georgia Casey, Shelby Pendley and Ricketts — who all hit better than .339.
But then the bottom of the lineup featured three speedsters. Destinee Martinez, Callie Parsons and Brianna Turang put all kinds of pressure on defenses with their fleet feet.
The power-speed combo was impossible to shut down, and even as the competition got better and better in the WCWS, the Sooners still managed to produce at a high level.
“They have the skill. They have the experience,” said Sue Enquist, another legendary coach in the college game. “Inexperienced teams come to the World Series, and sometimes hope is the strategy — ‘I hope we can play the way we've been playing' — and I don't see any of that with them.”
From outside looking in, the former UCLA coach sensed numerous intangibles on this OU team.
A love of playing together.
An ability to bounce back from failure, particularly the disappointment of falling short of the national championship a year ago.
Put all of that together, and it made for a strong cocktail.
“They really, truly love being in that uniform,” Enquist said. “Combined with the talent makes that program fit historically in a really special place.
“There's no doubt they're one of the best.”
But are the Sooners the best?
It's hard to argue against them, considering that this is an era of increased parity. More good players. More good teams. No longer is it just UCLA and Arizona and everyone else.
Never before has it been tougher to excel in college softball. Yet, these Sooners cut up the competition like butter on a summer day.
“With the parity there is today,” Candrea said, “it definitely is a special moment and a special team.”
A team like we've never seen before.