Guerin Emig: National title secures OU softball team's place alongside '13 powerhouse as program's gold standards

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OKLAHOMA CITY — One October 2013 night, about four months after Oklahoma had completed a demolition job with a national championship and a place in college softball history, I spotted Sooners coach Patty Gasso at a Norman High School game and wandered over to chat.

We eventually got around to Keilani Ricketts, Lauren Chamberlain and Brianna Turang and what they had just done. I told her: “You realize you could coach another 50 years and never have another team like that.”

I was quite confident about that. She was not.

I remember her smiling and giving my comment some thought. Then she said: “We’ll see.”

Eight years later, we see.

The 2021 Sooners completed the Women’s College World Series Thursday with a 5-1 conquest of Florida State. They won their own national championship, the fifth for Gasso’s program, as a result.

They just finished their own wrecking-ball season with a 56-4 mark — the 2013 Sooners were 57-4 — and a personal NCAA record book for offense.

I thought the ’13 lineup, with Chamberlain, Shelby Pendley, Brittany Williams and Jessica Shults, had pop. OU’s ’21 mashers hit pitchers with cannon fire, the last two blasts courtesy of Jocelyn Alo and Jayda Coleman on Thursday.

Giselle Juarez, an influential complement to this Murderer’s Row in the pitching circle, does not overpower hitters like Ricketts did eight years ago, but precious few ever have. Juarez is plenty good.

She was much more than that this and last week, winning five WCWS games to swipe the Most Outstanding Player award from those hitters.

All spring, Juarez and her fellow pitchers got phenomenal support from the best offense and defense Gasso has coached since taking the OU job 26 years ago. The whole squad showed phenomenal resilience.

The ’13 Sooners went 5-0 at the WCWS. This bunch rebounded after dropping its first game here to James Madison, and then its first championship series game to Florida State.

Ricketts, Chamberlain and crew had guts, now. Remember the two-out extra-inning rally against Tennessee here eight years ago? Remember how badly they wanted to prove themselves after their near-miss against Alabama in the 2012 WCWS finale?

These Sooners nearly missed against UCLA in the ’19 finale. They lost 2020 to the pandemic. They lost twice in Oklahoma City over the past week.

These Sooners had freshmen who had to learn that playing in front of 13,000 fans in the sport’s showcase event bears down hard.

The ’13 juggernaut could practically coach itself it was so seasoned. There were games those Sooners could win with Ricketts’ arm, Chamberlain’s wrists and Turang’s legs and nothing else.

The present-day champs didn’t have the same base-to-base speed, but you saw Nicole Mendes leg out triples in OU’s season-saving wins over James Madison here. You saw Coleman turn bloop doubles into diving catches in center field here.

The present-day champs didn’t quite have the upperclass presence from ’13. But you heard Gasso praise seniors Mendes, Alo and captain Lynnsie Elam all week for showing the kids the way.

“Those three in particular,” Gasso said Thursday, “I was really proud of how they took some things over.”

The comparisons over eight years time are multiple. They are warranted.

“Absolutely, yeah,” Gasso said. “You’ve got Lauren Chamberlain and Jocelyn Alo. You’ve got Shelby Pendley and Tiare Jennings. You can compare them all the way down the lineup.

“We had more lefties in 2013. They were hybrid type players. They could bunt. They could slap. They could hit gaps. They could hit it out at times. We have a few of our athletes, like Jayda Coleman, able to do that.

“So they are very comparable top to bottom.”

Where you land in terms of superiority depends on what type of softball you prefer.

If you dig flamethrowers, Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne — remember she beat Tennessee for the title — tip it for the ’13 Sooners. If it’s rocket launchers, Alo, Jennings and Kinzie Hansen tilt it toward present day.

Speed, defense, attitude and fortitude? They pretty much wash out. So does coaching. It gets no better than Gasso and staff, even as pitching and hitting assistants have changed over eight years.

“Don’t make me choose because I can’t,” Gasso said of what is now a shared template for OU’s gold standard. “They are both very worthy.”

The fact that it’s too close to call speaks wonders of what these Sooners just accomplished.

While proving the ol’ coach knew exactly what she was saying, and building, that October night eight years ago.