With four national championships since 2000, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso has built one of the greatest dynasties in college softball history.
Whether this year’s team climbs to the heights of the 2000, 2013, 2016 and 2017 national championship teams remains to be seen in the upcoming weeks.
But there’s not much question the 2019 Sooners enjoyed one of the best regular seasons any college softball team ever experienced.
The No. 1-ranked Sooners set an NCAA record by winning their last 39 games before regionals, and made it 41 straight with Friday’s 12-0 win over the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Saturday’s 4-0 win over Wisconsin. They swept through the Big 12 regular season with an 18-0 record and are now 51-2 following their two NCAA tournament wins.
For all those reasons, the Sooners swept all the major awards on the Tribune-Herald’s all-Big 12 softball team.
Senior third baseman Sydney Romero is the Big 12 player of the year, Giselle Juarez pitcher and newcomer of the year, first baseman Grace Green freshman of the year, second baseman Caleigh Clifton defensive player of the year, and Gasso coach of the year.
“If you had asked me if we would have a winning streak of 39 games I would be surprised because we had a lot of new players,” said Gasso before hosting this weekend’s NCAA regional in Norman. “We had two new pitchers who would replace the best who had ever played for us in Paige Parker and Paige Lowary. What really made this team go is the senior class. They really embraced them and knew they needed these new players to win, so they handled it the right way. The more comfortable they got, the more you saw them take off.”
No senior has been more important to the Sooners’ success than Romero. The gifted third baseman has started since the day she stepped on campus as she’s produced a .373 batting average with 51 homers and 210 RBIs during her four seasons.
She’s emerged as a candidate for national player of the year this season by leading the Big 12 with a .427 batting average while crushing 17 homers with 51 RBIs. Her .848 slugging percentage ranks only behind fellow Sooner Clifton at .881.
Gasso believes Romero learned from her struggles at the plate during last year’s postseason when the Sooners came up short in their bid for a third straight national championship.
“I think Syd Romero would tell you she felt that she might have disappointed the team last year because she started to really press, and it showed,” Gasso said. “She wasn’t having fun. She tried to do so much for the team that she overdid it. She learned a valuable lesson and that’s what you’re seeing now.”
While Gasso knew she had a prolific offensive team, Oklahoma’s pitching was much more uncertain heading into the season after losing Parker and Lowary.
But the Sooners got two great transfers in Juarez from Arizona State and Shannon Saile from Florida International.
Juarez had already proven herself for the Sun Devils by making the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America team with a 26-6 record with a 1.22 ERA last year. The left-hander was the workhorse for that staff as she struck out 305 batters in 224.1 innings.
With Saile and Mariah Lopez balancing out Oklahoma’s pitching staff, Juarez hasn’t had to shoulder as heavy a load. She’s been terrific as she went 22-0 with a 1.26 ERA with 186 strikeouts in 127.1 innings heading into the NCAA tournament.
“She got here in January and had three weeks with us before we got started,” Gasso said. “So the beginning of her season was not great. But the more she spent time with Coach (Jennifer) Rocha and our pitching staff, they really fed off each other. They have a little sisterhood. There’s not one main leader. They all kind of share the innings. They respect each other. So they are really a great tag team.”
Arriving at Oklahoma from Oakdale, Calif., Green hasn’t looked like a freshman. The first baseman has been a major piece of Oklahoma’s attack by hitting .409 with 14 homers, 15 doubles and 50 RBIs while slugging .781.
“Grace Green and the way she’s hitting as a freshman I didn’t expect,” Gasso said. “But they want to live in a world with these seniors. You’re going to have to elevate and they’re doing that, and it’s been really impressive to see.”
There isn’t a better all-around player for the Sooners than Clifton, who hit .407 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs coming into the NCAA tournament. The senior second baseman’s defense has been equally important as her offense as she’s made just two errors in 87 fielding chances for a .977 fielding percentage.
After falling short last season, Gasso hopes her seniors get a chance to end their careers with another national championship.
“That’s why I think these guys are having great senior years because they didn’t perform the way they wanted to in the postseason as juniors,” Gasso said. “And they wanted to do it right.”
2019 Tribune-Herald All-Big 12 Softball Team
|Player of the year: Sydney Romero, Oklahoma|
|Pitcher of the year: Giselle Juarez, Oklahoma|
|Newcomer of the year: Giselle Juarez, Oklahoma|
|Freshman of the year: Grace Green, Oklahoma|
|Defensive player of the year: Caleigh Clifton, Oklahoma|
|Coach of the year: Patty Gasso, Oklahoma|
|1B||Grace Green||Oklahoma||Fr||.409||14||50||.781 slug pct|
|2B||Caleigh Clifton||Oklahoma||Sr||.407||14||43||.881 slug pct|
|SS||Sami Williams||Iowa St||Jr||.379||15||35||9 stolen bases|
|3B||Sydney Romero||Oklahoma||Sr||.427||17||51||.848 slug pct|
|C||Mary Iakopo||Texas||So||.365||9||34||.470 on-base pct|
|OF||Karli Hamilton||Texas Tech||Jr||.424||8||41||13 stolen bases|
|OF||Janae Jefferson||Texas||So||.412||0||22||9 stolen bases|
|OF||Falepolima Aviu||Oklahoma||Sr||.387||7||33||.502 on-base pct|
|DP||Jocelyn Alo||Oklahoma||So||.400||14||45||11 doubles|
|Util||Rylee Bayless||Oklahoma St||Sr||.342||8||34||Scored 50 runs|
|1B||Jessica Hartwell||Texas Tech||Sr||.318||8||41||13 stolen bases|
|2B||Madi Sue Montgomery||Oklahoma St||Sr||.359||6||43||.454 on-base pct|
|SS||Taylor Satchell||Texas Tech||Sr||.324||10||42||11 doubles|
|3B||Breanna Russell||Texas Tech||So||.331||5||27||12 doubles|
|C||Chyenne Factor||Oklahoma St||Fr||.340||7||34||.433 on-base pct|
|OF||Nicole Mendes||Oklahoma||Jr||.369||4||33||.452 on-base pct|
|OF||Heaven Burton||Texas Tech||So||.363||0||12||21 stolen bases|
|OF||Goose McGlaun||Baylor||Jr||.341||3||13||.448 on-base pct|
|DP||Trenity Edwards||Texas Tech||So||.339||14||41||.732 slug pct|
|Util||Nicky Dawson||Baylor||Jr||.336||0||15||12 stolen bases|
|RP Shannon Saile||Oklahoma||Jr||10-1||72.1||116||1.06|
|SP||Samantha Show||Oklahoma St||Sr||17-7||153||97||2.47|