State Colleges Celebrate Softball Championships

Sports Writer

AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: The University of Tulsa softball team celebrates the 2016 season. The Golden Hurricane went 41-17 and won the American Athletic Conference

Courtesy University of Tulsa

Oklahoma repeating as softball national champions in June capped off a year in which all three of the state’s Division I programs had memorable seasons.

The Sooners went 61-9 en route to their second consecutive title, third in five years and fourth in program history. They also won the Big 12 for the sixth straight year. The coaching staff is Head Coach Patty Gasso, Associate Head Coach Melyssa Lombardi, Assistant Coach J.T. Gasso and Volunteer Assistant Coach Andrea Gasso who were also honored as Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year. They also received the award after winning the national title in 2016.

OU also swept nearly every major conference award. Shay Knighten was the Player of the Year, Paige Parker was Pitcher of the Year, Nicole Mendes was Freshman of the Year and Patty Gasso was Coach of the Year. Four Sooners each made the All-Big 12 first and second teams and two made the freshman team. With only one starter lost to graduation, Oklahoma stands a good chance to three-peat next season.

Tulsa had a memorable campaign going 41-17 and winning the American Athletic Conference for the first time since joining the league. Oklahoma State finished 38-25 and gave then-No. 1 and eventual national runner-up Florida a challenge before losing to the Gators in a regional final.

The Golden Hurricane came close to eliminating OU before falling 6-4 in 10 innings of their regional title game on May 21.

Because OU lost its regional opener and TU did not lose prior to that game, a rubber game was forced the next day. The Sooners would command that game in a 3-0 victory, and Tulsa’s season came to an end.

“It will be a team that exceeded our expectations,” Tulsa coach John Bargfeldt said. “When we began the year, we knew we had some potential, but you don’t know how quickly that will all come together. The other thing that stands out is we went an awful long way with very good pitching and very good defense. Our hitting was more in the clutch, but we weren’t the team that was going to show up offensively and pound the other team’s pitcher out of the ball park.”

TU excelled behind pitcher Emily Watson, who was named to the All-American Second Team, the hitting of twins Maggie and Maddie Withee, Julia Hollingsworth, Tori Stafford and Morgan Neal. Watson was TU’s first All-American since its last year in Conference in 2014. She finished with a 30-6 record on the mound, pitching 246.2 innings, 348 strikeouts and had an of 1.25.

The Golden Hurricane picked up big wins against some national-known powers.

“That is something we’ve been accomplishing for the last seven years, and it’s important that we play those schools because it lets us know what type of competition that we’re going to play in regionals,” Bargfeldt said. “We try to make sure we get those type of teams on our schedule and give us an opportunity to play against some of the better teams. Those are fun games to play because they are very highly competitive games. They see the best competition around.”

Although TU lost three times to OU, they battled the Sooners to the core in each game. They only lost 1-0 in an early-season battle. Then came the regional final, where Tulsa took an early 2-0 lead against Sooner ace Paige Parker, including a home run from Shelby Estocado, before OU rallied with a run each in the fifth in the sixth innings.

“They were a team expected to win that regional, and so the fact they were in the losers’ bracket playing us, I told the team the pressure is on them,” Bargfeldt said.
An upset loss to North Dakota State in the first round sent the Sooners to the consolation bracket.

The game went into extra innings. Tulsa took the lead back on hits from Tori Stafford and Maddie Withee in the top of the 10th, then came a pair of two-shot homers by the Sooners – one to tie it and one to end it — in the bottom frame.
“I was really proud of the team on how we kept battling,” Bargfeldt said.

“You got to give credit to OU, they squared up some balls in that 10th inning – four in a row, and they hadn’t done that in the nine previous innings.”

After winning the rubber game the following day, OU would go on to sweep Auburn on the road in the Super Regional, having never trailed in either game. It never fell behind again until the semifinals. The Sooners would then persevere in its epic battle with Florida in the series final, including the record 17-inning game one.

The Sooners’ success reflects strongly on that of Tulsa’s, as well as their character. Despite having two big holes to fill, based on the success of 2017, expectations will be high for the Hurricane in 2018.

Updated 07-24-2017

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