Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (2024)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Karlie Keeney started the game in the pitcher’s circle. Maybe a Women’s College World Series final has been staged with a pitcher making her fifth start of the season, but none come to mind.

Paytn Monticelli, with 19 innings pitched all season, relieved Keeney in the third inning, with the bases loaded with Longhorns in a tie game. Monticelli pitched to one batter. Kierston Deal was next and pitched one scoreless inning. Then came Nicole May, for 12/3 innings. Finally, ace Kelly Maxwell appeared for the final four outs.

Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (2)

Seven innings. Five pitchers. Four straight national championships.

Patty Gasso went rogue in Game 2 of the WCWS Championship Series on Thursday night at Devon Park. The coach who rode Jennifer Stewart and Keilani Ricketts and Paige Parker and Jordy Bahl to NCAA titles went committee-crazy against Texas.

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OU switched pitchers like Carol Burnett switched costumes. The Sooners bested Texas 8-4, and Gasso not only had her eighth World Series title, but a smile as wide as she’s ever flashed.

“I tell you, this is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever been a part of, because of that,” Gasso said. “It was really, really cool. That’s one thing I’ll always remember, is just what this felt like.”

Softball remains a pitcher’s game. Coaches are risking disaster when they forego their ace in the name of rest or team chemistry.

Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (3)

The traditional way to victory remains the best way to victory. Unless there’s not much separation in talent, pitch your ace, then pitch her again.

Gasso deviated from that proven script Monday, starting May in a bracket closeout game against Florida, and the Gators rolled 9-3. The Sooners were fortunate to escape Florida in extra innings the next day and advance to a showdown with Texas.

But Gasso knows a thing or two about softball, and she knows a thing or two about her team. So after Maxwell beat Texas 8-3 in Game 1 Wednesday night, Gasso said no way was she coming back with the lefthanded Bedlam transfer.

“We knew we couldn’t throw Kelly,” Gasso said. “We just can’t.” Gasso still laments pitching Parker game after game back in 2017, even if it did work en route to a WCWS title, because Parker didn’t seem the same in 2018.

“I’d never do it again,” Gasso said. “It wasn’t worth it.”

So it was Maxwell in Game 1, the Gasso Gang in Game 2.

“We talked about it before the game,” May said. “Our role is to just pass the ball to the next pitcher. We wanted to get everybody in.”

Dang near did. OU’s only unused pitcher was S.J. Geurin, who toiled only 10 innings all season. But even Geurin was in the bullpen, warming up during Game 2, and after the game she seemed the happiest person in the park.

“If you’re trying to win the whole thing, it takes a staff,” said May, a direct-speaking senior. “And we have a staff. This staff is super close. We’re actually friends. We get along. We root for each other, cheer for each other. There’s no jealousy, none of that. I’ve heard horror stories with other staffs. We’re a tight-knit group. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The transfer portal gets a lot of pub these days, with high-profile cases like Caleb Williams and Brandon Garrison and Kelly Maxwell. But the other side of the portal is a player like May, who put in her time and got to her senior year, only to be joined by the likes of Maxwell, one of the nation’s best pitchers.

But May didn’t bolt.

“Oh God no,” May said. “I fell in love with this place the minute I stepped on campus on a visit. Fell in love with the culture, the program, the coaches, the people that Coach brings in. Leaving here would be like leaving home, and that’s just stupid.”

Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (4)

May’s final appearance as a Sooner came Thursday night, when she entered to start the fifth inning and OU up 5-3. May pitched a 1⅔ innings and would have escaped unscathed had second baseman Avery Hodge not bobbled a short-hop bouncer off the bat of UT’s Mia Scott.

If Geurin wasn’t the happiest Sooner in Devon Park, Monticelli was. The transfer from Wisconsin hasn’t pitched much, but she induced a bases-loaded groundout from Joley Mitchell to end the third inning.

Then Monticelli went into surreal mode, as the park roared at the third out.

“Honestly, I didn’t hear the fans at all,” Monticelli said. “It felt quiet to me.” Monticelli and first baseman Cydney Sanders chest-bumped, but that’s all she remembers.

“I can’t really describe it, honestly,” Monticelli said. “It’s so cool to be here and experience this atmosphere, then to get in it and play in front of 12,000 fans is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Something I can’t really describe. I thought I’d be able to describe it. It’s really kind of shocking. But I can’t.”

Eventually, the game was in Maxwell’s hands, and buoyed by Ella Parker’s two-out, two-run single, the Sooners had a four-run lead. Maxwell didn’t need that much cushion and mowed down the Longhorns in order, igniting a dogpile in the dirt.

That dirt is special to these four-year Sooners — Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen, Rylie Boone and May. Four trips to the Series. Four championships.

“I felt very free coming into today, just knowing it was going to be the last time I was going to be touching this dirt,” May said. “Kind of surreal, knowing that was the last time I was going to be playing on this field. Pretty lucky to say I’ve played on here the last four years and won every time.”

Gasso now has coached in 77 World Series games. She’s an amazing 53-24 in those games. This was not her best team, and this was not an easy season. But this is a game she’ll long remember.

“What I loved is every pitcher had a part in this,” Gasso said. “Even if it’s one batter. It was exactly planned out, and it worked exactly how it was supposed to.”

Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (5)

After the game, Gasso said she’s looking forward to 2025; said she’ll have to go back to coaching, as the Sooners face a rebuild without all those veterans.

But Gasso got a head start Thursday night. Her pitching plan worked superbly, and the Sooners are champs again.

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"Jennings is Patty Gasso’s second-greatest player, behind only Keilani Ricketts, who pitched OU to the 2013 national title and also was the Sooner cleanup hitter," Sports Columnist Berry Tramel wrote.

OU called Kelly Maxwell 30 seconds after she entered transfer portal. The Sooners are now one win from the national title

Kelly Maxwell, a left-handed pitcher with a bulldog mentality, may only spend one season with the Sooners, but she’s closing in on legendary status.


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Berry Tramel: The Gasso Gang pitches OU softball to another WCWS title (2024)
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