OU softball coach Patty Gasso felt her team tightening up.
So did Sooners hitting coach JT Gasso.
Heading into the bottom of the fourth inning scoreless Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series finals, the Gassos convened their team in the tunnel beyond the dugout.
“I think the moment got big,” Patty Gasso said. “For the first time in a long time, they started thinking, ‘What is happening right now?’ Mistakes, which we don’t do — we don’t do that. You could see by the way they were swinging or they were frozen that they weren’t ready for it. They were off.”
A few moments later, the Sooners were off all right — off to the races.
OU broke through in the fifth, ultimately running away with a 5-0 victory over Florida State after two weather delays at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium to move within a win of its third consecutive WCWS title.
The Sooners (60-1) have a chance to claim their seventh national title with a win in Game 2, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 8, 2023
Wednesday, Bahl’s breakthrough moment came on the offensive side.
Just after the team meeting broke up, OU designated player Haley Lee’s leg was grazed by Mack Leonard’s first pitch of the inning.
Lee started heading to first before home plate umpire Tracy Laycock called her back.
Lee immediately told Gasso to challenge the call.
“Any time they say something happened, I believe them,” Gasso said. “I’m always going to challenge it ’cause I don’t think they’ll lie to me. They probably have, but has nothing to do with softball.
“I had to listen. That was big.”
The call was quickly reversed and as Lee swung her arms wildly to incite the crowd to grow louder, Gasso quickly called for Bahl to grab her helmet and run for Lee.
“We needed a spark,” Gasso said. “We needed some kind of spark.”
Gasso has said at several points this season that Bahl might be the team’s best baserunner.
She got the chance to prove that in the biggest moment of the season to date.
“Get a good jump,” Bahl kept repeating to herself as Kinzie Hansen dug in.
At the plate, Hansen was confident that if she could get the ball into the gap, the Sooners would be on the board.
“Jordy has wheels,” Hansen said. “She runs circles around us at practice sometimes. She strikes us out, too. It’s all over the place.”
Even with a new pitcher in the circle, Hansen adjusted from her first plate appearance where she rolled over and grounded out to third.
Hansen drove the ball to left center, bouncing it past center fielder Jahni Kerr and Bahl was off to the races.
Bahl did exactly what she’d been telling herself to do.
“I saw the ball off Hansen’s bat. Knowing where the outfielders were, it was going to get through,” Bahl said. “I was able to get a good jump and run.”
Then the Sooners started piling on, adding two more in the fourth and one each in the next two innings.
With Bahl in the circle, that was more than enough for OU to extend its NCAA-record winning streak to 52.
“From that point on, everything just started,” Gasso said. “We started finding some gaps, get a little more confidence in what we’re doing.”
Bahl continued her WCWS dominance in the circle, allowing just two hits, walking one and striking out 10 in the complete game.
Bahl (22-1) has thrown 21 ⅔ scoreless innings during the WCWS.
“She is made to be able to do that,” Gasso said. “She wants the ball like nobody’s business. Not that we don’t have faith in our others. It’s just she is like a very, very hot pitcher right now. She’s throwing the best she has all season right now.”
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU softball beats Florida State in Game 1 of WCWS championship series