OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso knew it sounded unusual as she mentioned it out loud. One thing good got here out of a loss? However maintain on a second, as a result of she will be able to describe the silver lining of Monday’s 7-Three defeat by the hands of UCLA.
To be put getting ready to elimination like that — to have her staff’s dream of successful back-to-back Girls’s School World Collection titles threatened for the primary time all season — was informative, she defined.
“To see our staff bow up and step up and say, ‘We’re not going dwelling,'” Gasso mentioned, “that was essential.”
Oklahoma’s bats fell uncharacteristically silent in the course of the first recreation of what turned out to be a doubleheader in opposition to UCLA. Residence run queen Jocelyn Alo stepped to the plate within the fifth inning as the sport’s tying run, and as a substitute of doing what Jocelyn Alo does and sending the ball far over the outfield fence, she struck out swinging. The largely pro-Sooners crowd was surprised by solely the staff’s third lack of the season.
However there was no panic between video games, no fire-and-brimstone speech from Gasso within the roughly 30 minutes they spent ready to take the sector once more. All they wanted was to hit reset, Alo mentioned, and by the look of the ultimate stat sheet, she was proper. Dealing with elimination, Alo was the hero as soon as once more, clubbing a pair of dwelling runs, together with a grand slam that introduced her RBI whole to seven. The 15-Zero win was the biggest margin of victory in WCWS historical past.
Misplaced within the offensive fireworks was the opposite motive Gasso might inform a gaggle of reporters with a straight face that shedding a recreation was a “blessing.” It proved one thing to her and her staff and possibly even the remainder of the nation: Hope Trautwein, who final yr pitched a perfect game during which she struck out 21 of 21 batters after which selected to switch to Oklahoma from North Texas in the course of the offseason, is the true deal.
A month in the past, the Sooners’ march to the WCWS — a wire-to-wire run because the No. 1 staff in softball, with the highest ERA and the highest batting common within the recreation — was practically derailed when ace pitcher Jordy Bahl felt one thing pop in her proper forearm as she warmed up over the last collection of the common season in opposition to Oklahoma State. Instantly, she shut it down and hasn’t began a recreation since, solely showing in a couple of innings of aid this week as she continues to work her manner again.
And it was into that void that Trautwein entered, a pitcher with an ERA so absurd that it could be sufficient to make Invoice James query the validity of statistics: Zero.17, the perfect in Division I. Catcher Lynnsie Elam and shortstop Grace Lyons spoke about it at one level in the course of the convention match, asking each other, “Is that even attainable? Is that actual?” They had been speaking about how Trautwein allowed solely two earned runs by way of the center of Could, in any case.
However then once more, how actual was it? Bahl was the All-American and co-Huge 12 Pitcher of the 12 months, not Trautwein. Being the staff’s No. 2 pitcher — even when she was the perfect No. 2 within the nation — meant Trautwein had a relative diploma of consolation with roughly half as many begins (14 vs. 23) and 38.7% fewer innings pitched than Bahl (81 vs. 132 1/Three) coming into the postseason. Getting into her sneakers and shouldering the accountability of the No. 1 starter, would Trautwein be the identical pitcher?
Talking to ESPN previous to the beginning of the NCAA match, Gasso was cautious as she mentioned Trautwein’s eye-popping ERA. She was a very good pitcher, Gasso mentioned with one thing approaching skepticism in her voice, however “she in all probability has thrown fairly a bit much less innings than most pitchers.”
The explanation sounded as unusual as Gasso speaking concerning the optimistic impact of the loss to UCLA: Oklahoma was a sufferer of its personal dominance with 76% of its video games ending early by advantage of lopsided scores. Gasso was uneasy about what that meant. She’d by no means skilled something prefer it. Some back-of-the-napkin math advised her their pitchers had misplaced practically 60 innings price of labor to run-rule video games.
“I am not taking something away from her as a result of she’s earned all of it,” Gasso mentioned of Trautwein again in mid-Could. “It is only a completely different world for us.”
The month since Gasso laid out her considerations have affirmed two issues: Going up in opposition to All-American hitters like Alo and Lyons and Tiare Jennings and Jayda Coleman day by day in apply could be all of the preparation a pitcher wants, and Trautwein can deal with the strain. It is why she selected to switch from North Texas, she mentioned, hinting at a confidence that may be obscured by her happy-go-lucky smile outdoors of the pitching circle.
Fact be advised, Oklahoma wanted her. In an announcement saying her addition a yr in the past this month, Gasso alluded to Trautwein’s expertise, which she mentioned can be “actually essential for this younger workers that we’ve coming in and returning.” She went on to tout Trautwein’s bona fides, which included Convention USA Pitcher of the 12 months honors, and referred to as her a “good match.”
If solely she knew how good. Trautwein would not have one other 21 strikeout recreation, however she would no-hit UCF in the course of the tremendous regionals.
Her two-hit shutout in opposition to UCLA on Monday was simply her newest spectacular outing. Since postseason play started with the Huge 12 match, she’s thrown a team-high 40 innings and posted an ERA of 1.40. Throughout the NCAA match, she’s 5-Zero.
With every begin, her confidence has grown. Whereas not as outwardly intense as Bahl, Trautwein has an aura that matches proper in at Oklahoma.
“It is humorous, as a result of for those who meet her off the sector, you’d be like, ‘She’s the sweetest soul. There is no manner she might be like such a dominant pitcher,'” Alo mentioned. “However she is, and he or she’s legit, and he or she makes me higher day by day.”
Gasso went into final Saturday’s recreation in opposition to Texas anticipating to make use of the bullpen and mix-and-match pitchers in opposition to the Longhorns’ harmful lineup, Bahl included. However then Trautwein received the beginning and by no means gave Gasso a motive to make a change, permitting two runs within the complete-game effort. Afterward, Gasso mentioned it was clear that Trautwein had discovered her consolation zone. She added, “Hope is sort of on fireplace proper now.”
Trautwein, for her half, is matter-of-fact about her growth on the sport’s largest stage. Upon arriving in Oklahoma Metropolis, she mentioned she took some recommendation from Elam: Go searching on the crowd as soon as and do not have a look at them once more.
All postseason lengthy, she’s adopted a easy rule of thumb: “Persist with my routine.”
“I’ve positively been getting extra used to the atmosphere,” she added. “It is onerous to play right here at any time when you’ve got numerous distractions occurring, and I actually have locked into my routine as I’ve thrown extra innings. Being comfy and realizing my staff has my again, it is getting simpler because the innings go on.”
Her ERA won’t be Zero.17 anymore, however Zero.58 is greater than all proper for somebody who has develop into the go-to pitcher on a staff two wins away from a nationwide championship.