Without taking into account the emotions - which are obviously impossible to truly eliminate from the equation, so just play along - and looking simply at the facts as they are, Oklahoma four time All-American Keilani Ricketts threw 188 pitches Monday night.
Yes, she's a back-to-back National Player of the Year. Yes, she's the most dominant pitcher in the sport. But she is human.
And because of that inconvenient fact, we're forced to ask the following question. "Do you start Ricketts tonight coming off a 188 pitch outing?"
There are a number of factors to take into account when trying to speculate as to what head coach Patty Gasso's decision may be.
* Pitch counts - For those who don't follow softball, they may look at that number and raise their eyebrows as to how any pitcher would be allowed to throw that many pitches. The thing to understand is because of a softball pitcher's throwing motion, their isn't the same kind of impact on the arm/elbow/shoulder areas. I'm not a doctor, so I can't give you the technicalities but just know it's different.
That said, 188 pitches is still a lot even for a softball pitcher.
Ricketts was asked following Monday night's game if she would be ready to go Tuesday night and she was confident that she would be. But what exactly would you expect her to say?
* Depth - A lot of softball teams rely heavily on one pitcher and when forced to go to a backup, there tends to be a significant drop off. Oklahoma does not have this problem. Senior Michelle Gascoigne would be the 'Ricketts' on just about any other team in the country, she is that good and has been all year for the Sooners.
So it's not as though Gasso would be worried about a talent drop off from Ricketts to Gascoigne if she asked the latter to start Game Two on Tuesday evening.
* Circumstance - Oklahoma is ahead 1-0 in the best-of-three series and thus obviously has the luxury of a one game advantage. So on one side of the coin you have the ability to go with Gascoigne and possibly rest Ricketts. As we've described, Gascoigne is more than capable and it's easy to envision her pitching well enough to close things out for Oklahoma.
On the other hand, the counter argument to that would be why risk the chance of losing a Game Two and putting yourself in a similar position to last year by potentially losing two in a row and another national championship.
I suppose it depends on whether or not you (and by 'you' I mean Patty Gasso) consider starting Gascoigne to be a "risk." Given how well she has pitched this year, the last two years really, I'd suspect Gasso would have the utmost confidence in Gascoigne if that's the route she decides to go.
Not going with Ricketts in a potential close out game would have to be seen as at least somewhat of a calculated risk, if for no other reason than she's the best pitcher in the country. There are some extenuating circumstances, as we've discussed, but does Gasso deem them significant enough to go with a fresh Gascoigne over Ricketts?
Patty Gasso is a Hall of Famer for a reason and in theory, this is what they call a good problem to have but it's not the most enviable of positions she finds herself in.
We'll find out what she decides Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ESPN. Who you got?