Moore than just a dream

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Sooners have waited a year to wash the sour taste out of their mouths from last summer's nightmarish national championship loss to Alabama, and tonight they finally did, blanketing Tennessee 4-0 to sweep the best-of-three championship final and claim the school's second softball national championship.

"One year ago we watched another team celebrate right in front of us, and we, as a team prayed together and thanked God for the opportunity to be in a National Championship and knew that this was something that we needed to learn from," said OU head coach Patty Gasso. "When that last out was recorded, all of a sudden the Sooners were supposed to be the team to beat. It's very difficult to live that way.

"But this team is resilient, and we followed God's lead. We followed it. We followed the path, and it was windy at times, but we never stepped off; and we just did it together. I cannot express to you how proud I am. We absolutely give God the glory in this victory."

And let the discussion begin already on whether or not this is the best college softball team ever.

Throughout the 2013 season, the Sooners not only beat, but wiped out their competition, run-ruling 23 opponents and going 23-3 against ranked foes.

Seven of those 23 victories against Top 25 competition went by way of mercy.

OU put two out of the three players up for National Player of the Year on the list—first baseman Lauren Chamberlain with her 30 home runs and .455 average and ace Keilani Ricketts with her 35-1 record and 1.18 ERA—and Ricketts took down the award.

It set the NCAA all-time walks record with 348 free passes.

Heck, it scored more runs in the NCAA Tournament (91) than it allowed the entire season (74).

And for good measure, the Sooners just decided to go ahead and become the first team ever to lead the nation in both earned run average (1.16) and scoring (7.80 runs per game).

They, too, finished third with their .334 team batting average.

Oh, and their starting pitcher who recorded the title clinching victory, Michelle Gascoigne, well, she just threw a complete game shutout with 12 strikeouts in her ONLY start of the postseason after Ricketts threw 188 pitches last night.

Pure dominance that certainly rivals the likes of a 2001 Arizona team that went 65-4 behind USA National Softball Team two-time gold medalist Jennie Finch, among other great former clubs.

"They [people] can say it," Gasso said. "I can't do that. They're the best. They are in my heart like nobody else right now. So, are they the best? I'll let you decide that. But to me right now, they are the best."

And whether or not they go down as the best team of all time, eclipsing Finch's juggernaut and others, this 2013 OU team stands next to their 2000 counterpart as National Champions, and that's just fine with them.

"It means the world to be able to have that National Championship for our senior year," Ricketts said. "Because we've had a lot of high points throughout our careers, but this is definitely the highest. I think we've built our way up to this point. Just to see these three girls have a tremendous year so far and for their senior year to go out so strong is awesome."

"It's everything I've ever dreamed of," Gascoigne said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet, but us four have been so strong and so close for four years and we've gone through everything together. And I said before the game, first pitch to the last, let's do this. So it's everything I could ask for."

More of the same from catcher Jessica Shults and outfielder Brianna Turang.

"This is what you dream about your entire life," Shults said. "I wouldn't want to do it with any other seniors by my side. We came in here like a goof ball bunch and now we've matured and we're leaving as women, as Coach would want it."

"It's amazing," Turang said. "Like Jessica said, I wouldn't choose another group to play with. We've been so close, and we've gone through so much together. It's been a blast to get to play with them. I mean, this whole team has the biggest heart, the most strength, and the most fight in any team that I've ever played for. It's amazing to be able to play with these girls."

Something else that's very fine with them and undoubtedly a bigger deal than if they're the greatest team of all time is, in the process, 15 days later the Sooners have paid a tribute to the devastated City of Moore hit by an EF-5 tornado and to their tornado-ravaged state.

That is to say, they've brought home a title for far more than just themselves.

"I think the tornado stuff has really inspired us, especially the fight of these people has inspired us to fight for them and to never give up just like they haven't," Turang said.

As for how they got it accomplished, Ricketts hit a big three-run bomb in the top of the third to put OU on top 3-0 early.

That was plenty enough considering Gascoigne's dominance in the circle.

In her last at bat as a Sooner, Ricketts added an insurance run to make it 4-0 on her RBI groundout.

The tournament's Most Outstanding Player had all four RBI in the clincher.

Tennessee, who largely challenged them Monday night, was little of a match on this night.

In fact, the Vols only finished with three hits.

"I cannot tell you how honored I am to be the coach of this team because they're just special, and they know how to win," Gasso said. "And they fought, and they were never afraid. They bowed up when they needed to together, and they're just a tremendous group of athletes that I love to work with every day."

The Sooners lose a bunch next year, including Gascoigne, Ricketts, Shults and Turang, but they can think about that later.

For now, the crown is theirs.


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