Tramel's ScissorTales: Bedlam softball powers OU, Oklahoma State thrive in NCAA regionals
Patty Gasso appreciates her OU softball team getting pushed. When you crush the ball like these Sooners do, a little competition goes a long way.
So Gasso was glad the upstart Wichita State Shockers weren’t meek and mild over the weekend. Saturday, Wichita State had a 2-1 lead on the Sooners, before OU prevailed 7-5. Sunday, Wichita State scored four runs in the first inning, before the Sooner bats started booming and OU won 24-7.
“Any good team appreciates getting pushed,” Gasso said. “They were definitely pushing back on us throughout.”
Gasso has been saying for a week that Wichita State was underseeded, getting sent to Norman. But the committee clearly is not working on a S curve. It seeds the top 16 teams, then picks 16 No. 2 seeds and 16 No. 3 seeds and 16 No. 4 seeds, then assigns them by geography, when possible.
Wichita State was headed to Norman or Stillwater, and the Shockers drew Norman.
Not that it might have mattered. OSU pounded the ball, too, in its regional, beating Mississippi State 9-3 and 10-2, after opening with a 10-0 rout of Campbell.
So that’s 29 runs in three games for OSU, a whopping amount unless compared to the Sooners, who scored 50 runs in three regional games (starting with a 19-0 rout of Morgan State).
Covid changed the 2021 NCAA softball season. The massive February and March tournaments in California and Florida, where many of the nation’s best teams gather, were gutted. Interconference, interregional play became much less a thing.
That made conference play more important than ever before and made the NCAA regionals a little more mysterious than usual.
But the same results occurred. The favorites and home teams ruled. Fourteen of the 16 home teams advanced to Super Regionals; the only interlopers were James Madison, which won the Tennessee Regional, and Virginia Tech, which won the Arizona State Regional.
The regionals, as much as anything, were a gauge on how teams stacked up nationally, with so little regular-season comparison outside of conference play.
“Before Covid, we had an amazing schedule set, and it got blown up,” said Cowgirl coach Kenny Gajewski. “Our first two weekends, we probably would have played eight (eventual) regional teams, maybe nine.
“We had to make do with what we had.”
OSU did get in games against Louisiana State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Where I knew this team was really good, we went on that conference run, won those 14 in a row," Gajewski said. "We were winning games when we weren’t playing well. People forget how hard winning is.”
But the Sooners got more out of the regional experience, perhaps because they were threatened by Wichita State, in a season when OU rarely has been pushed.
“They got mis-seeded and they were coming here on a mission, and you could feel it,” Gasso said. “That kind of push, we needed. We felt that against Oklahoma State (the previous two weekends).
“What I learned about this team, they pushed back. I love their response in that way.”
Now the Sooners host Washington in a best-of-three Super Regional starting at 2 p.m. Friday, and the Cowgirls host Texas in a best-of-three Super Regional starting at 4 p.m. Friday.
After a season in which the pandemic prevented some prime matchups, we’ve reached the point where prime matchups is all that’s left.
Thunder report card: Ty Jerome
When Ty Jerome arrived via trade from the Phoenix Suns last autumn, his NBA future was in doubt. Jerome, a first-round pick out of Virginia, had played 31 games for the Suns as a rookie but just 10.6 minutes per game. But this season with the Thunder, Jerome went a long way to establishing himself as a bonafide NBA player.
We continue our series of Thunder report cards with Jerome, who played sparingly early in the season, due to a sprained ankle, but became a solid player after the all-star break.
Three-point shooting: A. Jerome made 42.3% of his deep balls; teams always find a place for that kind of accuracy. Jerome made 46.2% from the corner, 41.7% on catch-and-shoot 3’s, 47.1% on deep balls off one dribble and 50% on deep balls off two dribbles. The guy can flat-out shoot.
Defense: D. To be blunt, Jerome is slow-footed. Offenses relentlessly will seek him out and hunt him down. Shooting will keep him on a roster, but defense will keep him off the court.
Point guard: B. Jerome became the defacto backup point guard after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's injury, and Jerome held up. Basketball-reference.com estimated that 47 percent of Jerome’s court time came at point guard. Jerome’s turnovers were kept in check – his turnover rate of 13.5 was about the same as SGA’s (13.7). Jerome had 5.5 assists per 36 minutes, placing him directly between point guards SGA (6.3) and Theo Maledon (4.6).
Shot selection: B. Jerome shot from deeper and deeper as the season went on, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As his reputation grows, a player like Jerome might need as much space as possible to get off his shot. And Jerome generally was an analytic's dream. He took just 40 of his 287 shots from mid-range, which is a good thing, since Jerome made just one of 12 on deep 2-pointers.
Playing with SGA: C. For future considerations, meshing with Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best Thunder barometers. SGA is the franchise cornerstone. The Jerome/SGA pairing was just OK. It ranked eighth among all Gilgeous-Alexander pairings, getting outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions.
Dressing for George W. Bush
George W. Bush says he likes baseball, and this is one time you can sort of trust a politician. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that W. indeed is fond of the diamond game.
Heck, he gathered up some rich friends 30 years ago to buy the Texas Rangers, and Bush was the managing partner of the franchise, before becoming managing partner of the state of Texas and the United States of America.
I met Bush once, back when he was running the Rangers. I was down in Arlington for a Ranger series in the ‘90s, he was sitting in the dugout before a game at the Ballpark in Arlington and agreed to a chat about some baseball matter or another. Nice fellow.
Bush and I shared another ballpark last week – another new ballpark – only this time the chatting would not come quite so easily. That’s what happens when the Secret Service joins the equation.
Bush threw out the first pitch Thursday for the dedication of OSU’s O’Brate Stadium. He’s an old friend of OSU benefactor Cecil O’Brate and spoke at a reception in a tent erected just outside the stadium.
The Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten and I got into the reception, but the message was clear. Bush would conduct no interviews. But we conspired on ways to talk with Bush.
Haisten wanted to ask Bush about his unforgettable first pitch in the 2001 World Series, less than two months after 9/11. I wanted to ask Bush about any potential chats with OSU student coach Robin Ventura, who famously was on the wrong end of a baseball brawl with Nolan Ryan in 1993, during Bush’s Ranger days.
Circumventing the Secret Service is not something I recommend or practice, so getting a minute of Bush’s time was going to take some ingenuity.
Here’s what I came up with. If I couldn’t approach Bush, maybe Bush would approach me. How could I get him to want to talk to me?
I decided on wardrobe. I wore my Jackie Robinson replica Kansas City Monarchs jersey. Trish the Dish bought it for me from KC’s Negro League Museum.
The Robinson jersey is a show-stealer. I thought, maybe President Bush spots the jersey, it piques his interest and the next thing you know, he’s trash-talking Ventura.
Alas, the reception wasn’t conducive to interpersonal communication. Bush didn’t mingle. He entered through the back of the tent, went straight to a podium, made a few (charming) remarks and then went back the way he came.
Bush did go through the crowd after throwing the first pitch, which was totally cool for fans, and after he spent some time in O’Brate’s suite, Bush mingled with some more fans in the boxes.
Haisten and I loitered on the concourse, hoping to catch Bush, and we met a really cool secret-service agent, based in Tulsa. I didn’t know that every major metro has a secret-service office. Agents from both Tulsa and Oklahoma City were in Stillwater, along with Bush’s detail who came up with him from Dallas.
We had a great chat, but eventually our new friend had to push us along so he could clear the area.
Oh well. It still was a cool night.
And it wasn’t the first time I stood out at a ballpark. On one of those Ranger excursions at The Ballpark in the ‘90s, I got a call that a videographer was going to join me that day to shoot some stock promotional footage for The Oklahoman.
Trouble was, I had packed for normal ballgame attire, like everyone else in the Ranger pressbox. But Edward L. Gaylord owned The Oklahoman at the time and was quite bullish on a dress code. Primarily, a necktie.
I certainly hadn’t packed a tie to go to Arlington, so I was informed I’d better drop by a store and get one. So there I was during a Ranger batting practice, walking around with a danged tie on. I felt like a fool.
I didn’t feel like a fool in Stillwater. I was styling. Even if it didn’t work.
Mailbag: Thunder tanking
The Thunder's status always is of interesting to Oklahomans, even those who say they're off the bandwagon.
Joe: “Is there another sport besides the NBA that tries to lose every game of the season like (Sam) Presti has had the Thunder doing? To me, it's different to go for the draft picks over winning when a team is starting from inception, as the Thunder did when Clay B. negotiated to bring them to OKC, and what they are doing now. Say what you will, but I don't think the Thunder will ever rebuild its fan base after what Presti had done, and it’s unfortunate for OKC. He has lost many star players during his tenure as GM here, and I think he's very overrated by the experts.”
Tramel: Lots of hole here, of course. To unpack, yes, there are other sports that tank. Not to the extent of the NBA, but the Dolphins and Colts have done it in the NFL in recent years, and even the Astros did it in baseball, all for draft purposes.
As for Presti, his superstars often have stayed longer than the norm. Kevin Durant was with the franchise eight years. Russell Westbrook was here 11 years. LeBron never was anywhere that long. Kawhi Leonard was not in San Antonio that long. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Anthony Davis. Chris Paul. Superstars are migratory in nature, these days.
As for the difference between now and when the Thunder came to town, the Thunder arrived with a promising young roster exactly BECAUSE Presti tanked. The Thunder had 11 straight years of winning, mostly at an incredibly high level. If the fan base has bolted because of one bad season, during a pandemic to boot, that says a lot more about the fan base than it does Presti.
Classic Flick Pick: “Lillies of the Field”
“Lillies of the Field” was filmed over 14 days just outside of Tucson, Arizona, on a ranch owned by Linda Ronstadt’s father. The movie’s budget was estimated at $240,000. Sometimes, you get more than you paid for.
Sidney Poitier agreed to do the movie for a fraction of his normal salary and a cut of the profits. Director Ralph Nelson put his home up for collateral to finance the film.
It was worth it. “Lillies of the Field” became a Hollywood classic. One of the best movies ever made.
The simple black-and-white film tells the tale of an itinerant worker who is persuaded to build a chapel for a group of German nuns, who don’t happen to speak English, in the American Southwest.
Poitier won the best-actor Oscar for the role, breaking the color barrier for that category. His frustration with the unyielding mother superior, played by Lilia Skala, makes for one of the great relationships in cinema history.
The movie is not perfect. Poitier, a notorious off-key singer, sings “Amen” periodically throughout the film. His songs were dubbed by Jester Hairston, who composed the song.
But the movie is great. A testament to faith, the real kind, and life lessons, some delivered by the great Stanley Adams, who some might know as the peddler in the venerable Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
“Lillies of the Field,” a title pulled straight from the Sermon on the Mount, is at home in a university film class or a Sunday School class.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.