OKLAHOMA CITY — UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez directed attention toward Oklahoma shortly after celebrating a national championship on Tuesday night.
“What a phenomenal season they had,” Inouye-Perez said. “Have a lot of respect for Patty (Gasso) and her entire staff.
“A lot of big-time seniors we’re going to see leave the game from Oklahoma that really impacted our sport.”
Six seniors — Falepolima Aviu, Caleigh Clifton, Shay Knighten, Kylie Lundberg, Raegan Rogers and Sydney Romero — have attacked the OU record book since the 2016 season.
Over the past four seasons, the Sooners were 232-28. The seniors only lost back-to-back games three times during that span.
They led OU to four consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances and four Big 12 championships. The Sooners appeared in three WCWS championship series and won two national titles. OU was 57-6 this season, which included a program-best 41-game winning streak.
It was an amazing run.
“This is the best senior class we’ve ever had,” Gasso said. “It’s very evident. Every single one of them here. Besides that, it’s just the way they share their hearts. You hear them praising God, you might go, ‘Oh, geez, really?’ It’s on their heart. It’s what they do. It’s what we do.”
Said Romero: “I have never been around such amazing athletes and just people. It has seriously been the best four years of my life. UCLA is a great team. We knew coming in it was going to be a great game. I just had so much fun this whole tournament, this whole year. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year, honestly.”
It’s not all softball with the seniors. Faith has always been a high priority.
“Win or lose, I think what’s so awesome about this team is we praise God when we lose and we praise him when we win,” Romero said.
Said Knighten, “Regardless of what the outcome is, regardless of where we’re at, what we’re doing, God is the center.”
Added Clifton: “I couldn’t be more blessed to be here with this senior class, just to be on the highest stage.”
The Sooners lost in heartbreaking fashion. After battling back to tie the game at 4 in dramatic fashion in the top of the seventh inning on Knighten’s two-out home run, Kinsley Washington hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the inning to provide the winning score.
The outcome wasn’t what the Sooners hoped it would be. But for such a close-knit team, the bonds will always remain.
“It’s special. It’s something that I dreamed of ever since I was a little kid. I came to the World Series. I was a fan of coach Gasso, this coaching staff,” Clifton said. “It’s special I got to live it for four years. I’m thankful and very blessed for this opportunity to be here.
“I’ll say it again. The senior class is so special. I’m very, very thankful that we got to share it all together.”