With a team as strong as Oklahoma, a repeat victory was bound to happen “sooner” or later (sorry). Also: a look at the Longhorns’ shifting identity, and the future of women’s softball.
It’s official: the NCAA D1 Softball Tournament trophy is staying in-state, thanks to Oklahoma’s triumph in the WCWS Championship tie last week. The Sooners pulled out two commanding wins against underdogs Texas, adding to their program’s storied legacy––and capping off what has been a season to remember for their squad.
Greatness Is the Rule
There’s so much to rave about when it comes to this year’s version of Oklahoma: their talisman Jocelyn Alo’s perfect farewell to the NCAA; their bagging of back-to-back titles for the second time in program history; not to mention their names sliding into future GOAT discussions. But if there’s a story that sums up the Sooners, it’s the one surrounding Jayda Coleman’s epic fielding moment in the Series’ final game.
Despite dominating the first match of the Championship series, Oklahoma were in a bit of a bind come Game Two. The Longhorns were 2–0 up in the bottom of the first inning, and were about to extend their lead thanks to a bomb from Courtney Day. Or … at least it would’ve been a bomb in normal circumstances. Enter Coleman, who caught the ball just as it was about to sail past the boundary.
Coleman’s save arguably became the standout moment of the final, and for good reason. For one, she pulled it off during a key point in the second match––when Texas’s slight lead threatened to morph into a commanding one. And besides, a home run robbery in a Women’s College World Series final doesn’t exactly happen every day.
But to the Sooners, Coleman’s million-dollar moment was business as usual. “When she does it in the game, it’s almost routine,” said Kinzie Hansen to the OU Insider. “She obviously grabbed the momentum for all of us, but we were like, ‘yeah, we expected that from her.’” Hansen’s take on the moment epitomizes this Oklahoma team’s ethos in a nutshell: greatness is the rule, not the exception.
Clearly, that mentality paid dividends. It’s what allowed them to save the final’s second game before it slipped away. It’s what powered them through the bracket to yet another national title. And it’s what helped to make them one of the greatest softball teams in history.
A Cinderella Story?
They may not have won a national title, but the Longhorns earned a nifty consolation prize thanks to their tournament run: the distinction of being the strangest Cinderella team in recent memory. They pulled off upset after upset after upset in the competition, but looked more like a Goliath than a David for long stretches of those matches. They became the first unseeded team to advance to the Championship game … even though there’s an argument that they deserved to get a seed in the first place. In order to even get to the final, they had to face Oklahoma State in the semis, pulling off a shutout in the first game AND an underdog-esque comeback in the second. This Texas squad’s reputation is confusing in the best possible way.
WE'RE NEVER DONE!!!— Texas Softball (@TexasSoftball) June 7, 2022
This Longhorns team absolutely refuses to quit. You may beat them, but they'll TEXAS FIGHT you to the last possible second!
M5 – TEXAS 6 – OSU 5 pic.twitter.com/Yh0dU8wpbL
“[Texas’ battle against the Cowgirls was] mind-boggling. And I wouldn’t want to go through it with anyone else. Our pitching staff is stacked. Our hitting is stacked. Defense is stacked,” Estelle Czech shared. “No one thought that we would be here, but we proved everyone wrong, and we’re going to play very hard.” For most teams, Czech’s statement would probably be contradictory––but that wasn’t the case for the Longhorns this year. Texas was a Cinderella, dark horse, and title threat rolled into one over the course of the tournament, and they were all the stronger for it.
A Fruitful Investment
It’s safe to say that women’s collegiate softball continued its hot streak on the small screen. The 2022 Series maintained a viewership average of one million per game. That figure is a slight dip from 2021’s numbers; however, it’s still pretty impressive, considering that this year’s schedule overlapped with major events such as the NBA Finals. Add that to the fact that the Texas-Oklahoma showdown is now the joint-highest Championship series in terms of average viewership, and this year’s WCWS starts to look like yet another step forward for the popularity of women’s softball.
Of course, TV time can only do so much for the game––local support is needed to ensure that it will thrive beyond its current generation of players. But finding and keeping that support won’t be a problem, judging by the in-person turnout for this year’s Series. 12,533 fans turned up to the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium for Day 3 of the competition––and helped set a single-day WCWS attendance record in the process.
The spectatorship from fans in the stadium and beyond doesn’t seem to be lost on the people towards which it’s directed––including Longhorns head coach Mike White. “Whenever you get someone to come and watch women’s fast-pitch, they want to come back,” he said to ESPN after Texas’s Day 3 match against the Sooners. “Now you walk past a restaurant, you’ll see the game on. People are invested in this game right now. They love it.” So long as the high quality of play keeps up––and the lucrative broadcasting deals keep coming––this investment won’t be shrinking anytime soon.
What A Time
The season is over, meaning that it’s time for fans to look to other leagues for their softball fix. Luckily, it’s not too far away––the inaugural seasons of AUX Softball and the Women’s Professional Fastpitch commenced on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
The @wprofastpitch Opening Day in the books.— Lauren Chamberlain (@LChamberlain44) June 15, 2022
Deeply humbled and extremely thankful. These women already mean so much to me!
Back at it tomorrow… but taking a moment to recognize how special today was.#ProtectHerDream pic.twitter.com/pYpTsvIjSJ
Jocelyn Alo recently announced her intention to compete in the WPF from the second series onwards. Meanwhile, Athletes Unlimited’s newest competition will feature a few of their recent college draftees, including Danielle Gibson and Georgina Corrick. In joining the two ventures, these athletes are helping to push the game forward and strengthen the college-to-pro league pipeline.
“Softball is really my job, what a time to be alive,” Alo remarked in a Tweet on Tuesday. What a time to be alive, indeed. The Sooners secured their legacy. Texas proved their doubters wrong. And women’s softball––whether collegiate or professional––is proving to be an investment that pays dividends for the athletes and fans at its center.