Parker's brilliance carries OU to title

The OU softball team celebrates Wednesday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium after defeating Auburn to win the 2016 Women's College World Series.

OKLAHOMA CITY — In the postgame press conference, Oklahoma senior Erin Miller leaned over, her face masked by the school’s third national championship trophy, looking at Paige Parker as the Sooner pitcher described how she did it.

Coach Patty Gasso called it a “masterful performance.”

Parker held No. 4 Auburn — which scored 11 runs a game earlier — to a Jade Rhodes solo home run in the fourth inning. It was her only blemish in her 38th win of the season, which tied a program record record and brought home the national championship in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory.

“She was incredible,” catcher Lea Wodach, said. “She was just nailing every spot tonight. She had a lot of tight spin, hitting the corners, working with the umpire. I can’t say enough about how well she did. With the last 12 batters, she didn’t miss.”

Parker retired those last 12 batters, allowing nobody to reach base after a fourth-inning walk to Haley Fagan.

Parker was not fatigued because of the no-longer controversial decision Gasso made to rest her Tuesday. Parker said she was at 50 percent when she pitched OU past the Tigers in Game 1 of the championship series Monday and at 33 percent Tuesday. Wednesday, before the game, she told her coach she was back to 75 percent. 

It was enough.

“My heart is with this kid first,” Gasso said. “To put her in a non-winning potential situation, I couldn’t do that.”

Parker ended the season earning wins in her last 28 appearances. She also finished with a school-record five WCWS victories, where she went 5-0 with a 2.13 earned run average and 25 strikeouts in 36 innings. She may have reached an even higher level to close out the Tigers.

“Elite-elite athletes can get there,” Gasso said. “Not every athlete can. Paige found that place in Alabama (in the super regional round) last year, and I almost have to be somewhat grateful that we had to go through that experience. We wouldn’t be here right now if she didn’t.”

With so much turnover last offseason, Gasso didn’t know what the future held, but she wanted her team to play free. She talked about not piling pressure on Parker’s shoulders to carry the group.

“It was almost panic the first weekend,” the coach said, recalling two losses to begin the season. “They were scared.”

They shook it off, even beating No. 6 Alabama in Fullerton, California, but the nerves returned to begin Big 12 Conference play. Miller called a Kansas loss at Marita Hynes Field “laborsome.” The Sooners returned to having fun after the setback and ran off 31 straight wins.

“We’ve really focused on letting our personalities shine, having fun, playing loose, playing free,” Miller said. “That is something we clung to, just being ourselves no matter what the situation is.”

OU’s game winning run came in on an infield hit from freshman Fale Aviu in the first inning. For the second time in two games, she stumbled at first, suffering a face plant after being called safe. She laughed about it afterward, saying it didn’t matter because the run still crossed.

Auburn’s Emily Carosone, who said she had started to figure out Parker after Game 1, went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded and no outs in the third inning. Jade Rhodes, who hit two home runs off Parker but watched her teammates struggle, explained Parker’s dominance simply.

“She did her thing,” Rhodes said. “She’s a great pitcher, and she came in and shut us down.”

John McKelvey

366-3530

jmckelvey@normantranscript.com

Follow me @ john_mckelvey

This Week's Circulars