On Tuesday night Oklahoma's Kelsey Stevens stepped in the circle and became the first Sooner to throw a pitch in the postseason other than Paige Parker. The end result of that game was an 11-7 extra inning loss to Auburn and an evened series at one game each.
While Tuesday's loss certainly can't be pinned on Stevens (a pitcher who holds the single-season record for wins) it was clear that Oklahoma was missing something and it was Parker. Wednesday night the sophomore ace stepped back on the field and tossed her way to Oklahoma's third softball national championship.
"I think Paige would tell you that she was yesterday - when she threw the first game against Auburn, her tank was about half full, so to be half-full and beating them, that's pretty big because they're just a very, very good offense," Patty Gasso said about her decision to rest Parker on Tuesday.
"When I talked to her on Tuesday morning after an ice bath, I think it was at a third of a tank, which is not enough to beat that team. And if we would have tried and put her out there, even in the third when we had a lead, I don't know that -- my heart is with this kid first, and to put her in a non-winning potential situation, I couldn't do that because she helped us get here. So it was, you know, we're going to do the best we can to win that game on Tuesday, give her rest."
It was all business on Wednesday night though as Parker stalled the Auburn offense to just a single run off five hits. She worked her way around a bases-loaded jam in the third and retired the final twelve batters she faced. Outside of a fourth inning Jade Rhodes home run it was vintage Parker and Oklahoma was in the driver's seat all night and the one day off had made all the world of difference in the world according to Auburn head coach Clint Myers.
"Paige is a quality pitcher," Myers said. "I mean, the rest that she had, her velocity was up a little bit compared to what she was the first day. Her movement was a little bit more. When you're rested, you pitch better, and she's an outstanding pitcher. You don't win 35, 36, 37 games like she has and not be, especially for a program like Oklahoma. She pitched well."
Of course you don't win on pitching alone. At some point you have to score runs and the Sooners plated both of theirs in the opening frame...with one of them literally being a freebie. Caliegh was able to waltz home when Emily Carosone lost her grip on the ball while attempting to fake Shay Knighten back to first base. "I mean, I don't get it," she said of the play. "That's never happened before, but it happened today. It slipped."
Knighten would eventually come home for Oklahoma's second run off a Fale Aviu singled up the middle and that's all of the offense the Sooners would need to pick up Parker's 38th win of the season and Oklahoma's third national title since 2000.