OKLAHOMA CITY — A quest to be optimal. That’s the diamond sports.
You don’t hear it much from Patty Gasso, probably because more than half her lineup is hitting better than .400, but you hear it all the time from Sooner baseball coach Skip Johnson, it’s a game of failure.
It’s true for both.
Even Tiare Jennings and Jocelyn Alo, with their .464 batting averages following Tuesday night’s World Series championship series opener, an 8-4 Oklahoma loss to Florida State, when not walked, are hitting into outs more than half the time.
It’s why there’s not a lot to say when a pitcher like Oddici Alexander shuts the Sooners down for all but one run-producing at bat from Jennings last Thursday. It’s why when a pitcher dominates a lineup or a great hitter turns a good pitch around into the seats, there’s no fault.
The thing about the diamond sports, too? They offer players and coaches more decisions than every other sport but chess and poker and, who’s kidding who, those aren’t sports at all.
Every decision can be optimal or less than and though you may lose on the days you get everything right and win on the days you don’t, the whole idea is to avoid avoidable miscues and give yourself the best shot.
OU didn’t give itself the best shot or anything close to it Tuesday night at Hall of Fame Stadium and now it’s in a hole, trying to do something it’s never done, come back from a 1-0 deficit in the championship series.
You can make a case Gasso should have gone with Nicole May, Shannon Saile or Giselle Juarez in the circle. But the case you can’t make is Olivia Raines should ever have been in the circle, or that any other team’s No. 4 pitcher should ever have a role to play in the World Series.
Yet, there she was.
May started, allowed hard hit balls but got through the first two innings all right, then gave up a two-run home run and walked two batters in the third, then gave up a hard hit one-out single to Cassidy Davis and walked Josie Muffley in the fourth.
That was Gasso’s moment to go get her. Had OU gotten out of that half inning down 2-0, it might have won. Instead, May struck out Anna Shelnut, before the roof fell in.
Harding lashed a two-run double, May remained. Kaley Mudge delivered an infield hit, May remained. Sydney Sherrill clubbed a two-run single, May remained. Elizabeth Mason delivered an RBI single, now it was 7-0 and Gasso finally removed her for Rains, who did not retire a batter, yet after plunking Dani Morgan, was the recipient of an outfield assist from Nicole Mendes in right that got her out of the inning.
After home runs from Mendes and Kinzie Hansen, in the bottom half of the frame made it 7-2, suddenly back in the game, sort of, Gasso removed Rains for Shannon Saile.
At 2-0, you’re still in it. At 7-0, you’re not, so you save your pitching and go with Rains. At 7-2, who knows, you hedge, and bring in Saile?
“That’s another one we probably should have done a better job with,” Gasso said, actually adding that Juarez was “the one that was hot in the bullpen and that didn’t make sense for us.”
Then why was she warmed up and Saile not?
It can’t happen.
In the Sooners’ last at bat, Jennings, who hit the ball hard all game, finally hit safely. After her one-out single, Alo doubled to right-center field and Gasso sent Jennings home, managing to make the second out of the last inning of the World Series championship series opener at home plate, which can’t happen either.
“Horrific,” Gasso said of the decision. On the bright side, it only cost her team an out.
Leaving May to keep going in the fourth inning cost it five runs.
Between a catcher’s interference against Lynnsie Elam in the top of the seventh, Grace Lyons’ flip to an uncovered second base when she could have stepped on it herself in the first and Kinzie Hansen’s attempted pick off that sailed into center field in the fourth, the Sooners committed three errors, too.
Though Saile allowed just a run over four frames, she walked three in the last two, making it eight Seminole baserunners who were not made to hit their way on.
Can OU still win it all?
Of course it can.
The Sooners can also do everything right and lose, because that kind of thing happens on the diamond.
Doing so many things wrong on Tuesday opened them up to that unfortunate fate today.