Decisions, decisions, decisions

By Michael Kinney

The fireworks are set to start at midnight. That’s when the free agency period in the NBA will kick into gear. Technically it’s 11 p.m. in Oklahoma, but midnight sounds so much more dramatic.

While there already have been a couple of block buster trades that have set the league on fire, there could be several more deals on the verge of taking place.

But for Oklahoma City fans, there is really only one player they are concerned about and that is league MVP Russell Westbrook.

When the clock strikes 11 p.m. Westbrook is able to sign a Designated Veteran Player Exception with the Thunder that could pay him $207 million over five seasons. It will be the biggest contract in NBA history. He earned the DPE after making All NBA this past season.

The Thunder trading for Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domas Sabonis is a big win in helping make up Westbrook’s mind.

If Westbrook chooses to sign the extension for the max, his salary per year will rise from $28 million this season to $35, $38, $41, $44, and $47 million per year.

Despite the ludicrous amount of money on the table, there is no guarantee that Westbrook will sign the extension. He has basically two more years on his current deal that he signed summer. But he can opt out of it after the 2017-18 season and become an unrestricted free agent.

If Westbrook decides to not sign the DPE extension and prefers to wait until next season, that puts Sam Presti and the Thunder in an extremely difficult situation. The same exact situation they dealt with last season when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City and they got nothing in return.

Presti will have to decide if he will roll the dice again knowing what the consequences could be, which is Westbrook walking and OKC getting nothing. Or does he do the seemingly unthinkable and start looking to trade the MVP. Trading Westbrook seems like an impossible reality, but it has to be on the table as an option.

The short list of players who were traded the year after winning the MVP include Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bob McAdoo.

From Westbrook’s point of view, he gains very little individually signing the new extension in the coming days except security that he will paid paid if he gets hurt. He can get the same money if he signs with the Thunder next year or if he is traded to another team and they sign him due to his Bird Rights.

But, if Westbrook opts out next season and doesn’t resign with Oklahoma. The most he can command is $160 million over four years.

So, if Westbrook doesn’t sign now, what message is he telling the Thunder?

Westbrook’s situation is a little different from KDs, because Durant left a Thunder team that still had a top five player on the roster and was just one win away from the NBA Finals. Westbrook is coming off an historic season in which he set triple double records en route to the MVP. But all it got him was a quick first round exit.

So the questions Westbrook and his camp will have to answer include:

1. Can Oklahoma City attract big name free agents to compete with the current trend of super teams? 2. Can Westbrook attract free agents to come and play with him?

3. Does the current Thunder roster have the potential to grow into something special?

4. Will Presti, owner Clay Bennett and the Thunder brass continue to do whatever it takes to keep Oklahoma City competitive?

5. Is it more important to be part of a possible title winning super team or to lead the Thunder to a championship when no one gave Oklahoma City a chance?

Those are tough questions that Westbrook may not be able to answer now. But regardless, he still has to make the biggest decision of his pro career at some point.

Oklahoma City will target players such as hometown kid Blake Griffin (not very likely) to Rudy Gay (decent chance) during free agency. But it will be hard for any free agent to commit long term to the Thunder without knowing what Westbrook will do after the upcoming season.

All the while, Thunder fans are sitting back with their fingers crossed. Because what happens in the couple of days could determine the future of the Oklahoma City franchise.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Breakthrough Series a hit

MLB puts focus on girls in underserved communities

By Michael Kinney

One minute Jayden Clark was talking with Olympic Gold Medalist Jenny Finch on playing with swagger. The next minute, the Tampa Fl. native was getting swing instruction from Oklahoma alum and College Word Series star Destinee Martinez.

That is how it went for Clark for four days in early June as part of the 2nd Annual Softball Breakthrough Series. Anything she wanted to know about softball, legends of the sport were on hand to pass on their knowledge.

“That’s the best opportunity ever,” Clark said. “Seeing someone who has went through the same challenges that I’m going through right now, and letting them be able to talk to me and tell me how I can do better, it’s the best thing ever.”

Clark was one of 60 young girls invited from across the nation to participate in the Breakthrough Series, which was held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium June 12-14.

According to USA Softball, the Series is designed to promote softball as a viable collegiate option for youth from underrepresented and under served communities. That includes kids from predominantly minority and low income neighborhoods, where playing softball past little league is more of a dream and actual goal.

“I think cost of participation limits interest for some children in lower income communities,” Mustang coach Jaime Roberts said. “Local high school programs and elite travel ball organizations can help increase participation and interest in softball among these underserved youth by offering free camps and clinics. I believe Institutions, athletic departments, and communities need to make an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Great leadership and persistence can help achieve more diversity and inclusion in the sport.”

Other programs MLB have instituted throughout the years include RBI, Breaking Barriers, The Urban Youth Academy and The Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

According to Tony Reagans, Senior Vice President of Youth Programs for Major League Baseball, making sure African Americans are not excluded from the future of baseball and softball is a priority for MLB.

“We have a number of programs that really focus on the underserved girls and boys from African American communities. So this is just one part of that initiative to, one, give African Americans, people who are underserved, give them an opportunity to experience something like this,” Reagans said. “And the really cool thing about this program is that this is cost-free to all the participants. So Major League Baseball and USA Softball funds the entire event whether it be equipment, travel, food, hotel. So we take care of all that for the girls and hopefully all they have to do is have a good experience here.”

Even though over 80,000 teams, 1.3 million players participate in ASA youth softball on an annual basis, those numbers are not translating into high school and beyond. That includes the new pro softball league that is still trying to find its footing.

Finch, who is one of biggest names in softball history, says the Breakthrough Series is a game changer for softball.

“This is huge. I am so excited about the partnership with Major League Baseball,” Finch said. “Major League Baseball is really stepping up to the plate and telling these young girls that they matter, and including our sport of softball and women’s baseball and all of the above. It’s exciting to see these young ladies get the opportunity to come out here and train with the best of the best on the world’s best softball. They’re just in awe, and it’s exciting. This is life-changing for a lot of them, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Camp instructors included Finch, Martinez, Sue Enquist, Shelia Douty, Erin Miller, Kellie Fox, Jessica Vest and many more.

While Clark’s goal is to make it to the top levels of softball, if she doesn’t, the Breakthrough Series showed her other avenues to stay involved with the sport.

“Even if softball doesn’t take me far,” Clark said, “with the knowledge I have I can show other people and kids younger than me how to be better than what they are.”

That is the type of attitude that really got Finch and her fellow instructors excited about the future of the sport.

“I love seeing just the raw talent, full of hunger. I mean, these kids, they want more, and they want to pick our brains,” Finch said. “And, yes, it’s about softball, but it’s way bigger than that. It’s about life. It’s the lessons that softball brings and sport brings from discipline, teamwork, leadership, all of those things that they’re learning.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

A season to remember

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

Standing in front of his Oklahoma City teammates, Russell Westbrook teared up. The normally hard edged point guard couldn’t help but get emotional late Monday night as he thought about the people who had gotten him to this point.

Westbrook was named the winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the 2016-17 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player. The award was presented to him by commissioner Adam Silver at the end of the first-ever NBA Awards Show in New York City.

Westbrook thanked the Thunder organization, his teammates and the fans. But it was when he got to his family that the water works started flowing. He talked about his younger brother being his hero, his parents sacrificing for him and his wife and new son being his life.

“As for emotions, man, my family, that’s who I play for,” Westbrook said. “Every night, you guys see me scream, pound my chest, whatever, I do whatever it is. Emotion, it’s for my family because they sacrifice so much for me at every level that I know that they do, and I’m just so thankful to have them in my life and definitely to have them here tonight.”

Westbrook earned 69 first place votes to easily win the MVP. Houston’s James Harden was second with 22 votes and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard grabbed 9.

While many thought it was going to be tight race, with the season Westbrook had it made it almost impossible for him not to earn the award.

Westbrook joined Oscar Roberson as the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double. Westbrook registered a league-best 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds (10th in the NBA), 10.4 assists (third in the NBA) and 1.63 steals in 34.6 minutes per game.  Westbrook also established a new NBA record with 42 triple-doubles.

Means a lot. Oscar, guys like him, Magic Johnson, those guys. Obviously I wasn’t able to see those guys play, but just to look back at history and see the things that they did, it’s something that I looked up to as a kid,” Westbrook said. “I never thought I would be able to say that I broke Oscar Robertson’s record, and that’s just a true blessing. He came down to Oklahoma City and gave me an award, which I was truly, truly thankful for, and then coming down and doing that.”

Westbrook’s dreams of being an MVP go back to his days as a kid growing up in California.

“It’s amazing. Something I can never imagine,” Westbrook said. “I remember growing up just being home, playing the video games and stuff with my Pops, and my mom sitting there and my brother and just talking about maybe one day I could be the MVP. Obviously I was joking at the time. But now to be standing here with this trophy next to me is a true blessing, man, and it’s an unbelievable feeling, something that I can never imagine.”

While the award show itself was a dud, Westbrook’s acceptance speech was one of the few bright lights. It may be the first time in his entire pro career that he allowed those outside his family to see him in such a happy emotional state.

Westbrook was asked about his childhood friend Khelcey Barrs and what he would be thinking seeing the MVP go to Westbrook if he had not passed away during a pickup game from an undiagnosed enlarged heart in 2004 at the age of 16.

“Oh, man, he would be so proud of me. These are conversations that me and Khelcey had growing up, man, and to be able to do this in his name, everything I do, I play in his name, and I constantly keep doing that; play for his life, his family and he’s definitely looking down upon me and very, very proud of me. So I know that I’m in the right spot and doing the right thing.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder rookie glad to be back in Oklahoma

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – After spending a year in Australia playing basketball, the first trip Terrance Ferguson made once he got back to the states showed he was a typical Oklahoman. He went to What-A-Burger.

That was just one of the stories Ferguson told Saturday when the Oklahoma City Thunder introduced its newest member to the media. The Tulsa native made it clear, he was glad to be back home.

“I just want to give thanks to the Thunder organization just for believing in me,” Ferguson said. “It’s been a long journey, many sacrifices, but I’m proud to be here. I’m back home. I’m thankful for my family for being by me every step of the way, and it’s exciting. I’m ready to start my journey.”

The introductory press conference was held at the CHK Central Boat House with Ferguson’s family and friends in attendance as well.

The Thunder selected Ferguson with the 21st pick in the first round of the NBA draft Thursday. He was the only draft pick Oklahoma City had this year, but one General Manager Sam Presti seems to think can help the franchise for years to come.

“I want to start just by saying what an exciting day it is for the Thunder to welcome not only a player but a person like Terrance to the organization,” Presti said. “He represents many of the things that we strive to bring into the Thunder and also into the state of Oklahoma, who he’s obviously relatively familiar with, with his roots here, so that’s another wonderful aspect to him being a part of the organization.”

Ferguson said the Thunder gave him no hints they would be taking him if he was still around when the 21st pick came up. But something inside him told him he could be returning back home.

“I actually didn’t. I actually didn’t,” Ferguson said. “But I was really relying on it, especially when they said the 20th pick, I put my phone down and I was just waiting, just waiting for my name to be called. I just put my head down, just like, please call my name, and when I got the information that I was coming, I want to tell you I went crazy, everybody went crazy and I was just full of tears.”

Ferguson grew up in Tulsa before moving to Dallas where he played high school basketball at Deion Sander’s Prime prep Academy for three years. He made the decision bypass college to go oversees and play in Australia.

“Australia was a great experience for me, but I’ve moved forward for now,” Ferguson said. “I’ve matured a lot, learned a lot as a player and as a person, but now I’m excited to be a part of the Thunder family.”

Whether it was his time oversees or playing for high profile academies, Ferguson comes across as a very polished and mature his 19 years of age. Even when he was asked about past social media posts in which he praised the Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, he handled the situation like a veteran.

“That’s actually pretty funny because I turned my notifications off just because of that video,” Ferguson said. “But that video is just — because me and Steph Curry are Under Armour family, so Under Armour, we’re really close. Everybody is pretty much each other’s brothers, so whenever they were playing I was cheering the Golden State Warriors on, but now I’m Oklahoma City Thunder, so that’s all that matters.”

Ferguson will most likely begin his NBA career with the Thunder at the Orlando Pro Summer League next week. He will join several Oklahoma players, such as Semaj Christon, Domas Sabonis and Josh Huestis.

The league runs July 1st through 6th. After that, he will be back in Oklahoma preparing for his rookie season in his own backyard.

“Oh, man, there’s nothing like home,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think anybody can say there’s nothing like home. So to be back at home and playing with the Thunder is definitely a huge opportunity and blessing for me.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Newest Thunder coming home

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY– Terrance Ferguson has traveled a long way. From being born in Tulsa to playing high school basketball in Dallas to going to work overseas.

But the 6-foot-7, 184 pound guard finds himself back where it all started. The 19 year old was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night with the 21st pick in the NBA draft.

“We’re thrilled to have him, add him to the Thunder,” General Manager Sam Presti said. “He represents I think a few things that attract us to him. Obviously it’s rare to find a player at his age that has the experience that he’s gained by being in different environments, the USA Basketball experience he’s had, the success he’s had there, and obviously overseas experience in Australia.”
Minutes after Ferguson heard his name called he tweeted out “Coming home,” on his twitter account.

Instead of going the college route, Ferguson left the United States to play in Australia in the. In his one and only season with the Adelaide 36ers, Ferguson averaged 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 15 minutes a game.

Fersugon’s numbers do not tell his story. Playing against grown men for the first time, he comes back to the states a more mature player.

“He was highly athletic, he was supposed to go to Arizona,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said. “The first American high school player to play in the NBL where he had minimum success, but he got a lot out of it. He played with adults. They beat him up, he handled it. He is the ultimate three and D guy down the road.”

Most analysts do not see Ferguson being an impact player right away for the Thunder. If that is the case, many fans will look at the selection as curious since the Thunder are in a win now situation with Russell Westbrook able to become a free agent after next season.

However, that late in the first round, there were not many players available who could make Oklahoma City a title contender in 2017-18.

The Thunder are getting a swing player who can shoot from long range, great jump shooter and is not only a good defender, but also a player who enjoys defending.

“I don’t know what will happen with Terrance, but I wouldn’t put limitations on him,” Presti said. “At the same time so much of it is what’s opportunity and placement, then development, how much hard work he puts in. The coaching staff has a vision for him, put him in position to be successful.”

Ferguson will wear No. 23 for Oklahoma City. The last player to hold that number for the Thunder was Dion Waiters.

Ferguson dealt with his first bit of controversy as a member of the Thunder minutes after he was drafted. Fans began to go back and pull up his tweets (@the2kferguson) from the past. Some of them included compliments Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors on winning the NBA championship. Many of those were soon deleted his new fan base came after him.

All of that will be quickly forgotten if Ferguson can live up to the potential many believe he has. He was a member of USA basketball from 2013-15 where he played on the U19, U17 and U16 teams.

During his prep years, he was home schooled, but played for Prime Prep Academy for three years, which was a charter school created by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. He then played his senior year at Advanced Prep International, also in Dallas.

Oklahoma City’s part in the draft ended once Ferguson was drafted. With no pick in the second round, they became spectators for the rest of the night.

“I guess the best way to explain it is we try to get every pick. Every team does,” Presti said. “It’s not just us. Everyone’s trying to find ways to get in. Tonight, just based on the values of the different picks, we didn’t find something that we felt was justifiable for trying to accomplish. But we looked at all that stuff, had a lot of tough conversations. I thought there were some really good players in the second round that teams were able to get. It’s harder to get in.”

Michael Kinney is a Content/Freelance Writer with Eyeamtuth.com

Wayman’s Way

Wayman Tisdale shows off his new prosthetic leg Tuesday in Oklahoma City at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics & Research

Michael Kinney

When Wayman Tisdale first burst onto the scene, he was a parade All-American at Booker T. Washington High on his way to become a star basketball player at the University of Oklahoma. He showed skills on the court that have not been duplicated in the state since.

That was 25 years ago.

Now, after the 44-year-old had his right leg amputated above the knee Aug. 25, the former college and NBA star is just looking forward to conquering something a little bit lower scale.

“I want to climb a flight of steps,” Tisdale said. “Just do some of the normal things. Be able to go outside and walk around again. That seems little to normal people, but that is a big thing. To be able to just go outside and walk a hill or walk around on my farm. Be independent. That’s a huge thing. Otherwise I have just been sitting around, which is no fun at all.”

Tisdale lives in Tulsa with his wife, four children and granddaughter Bailey. He was in Oklahoma City Tuesday getting fitted for a prosthetic leg at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics — Research. He is almost three months out from having his right leg removed due to bone cancer, which was found after he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg.

“Once I came out, what I realized more than anything I was still the same person after the surgery as I was when I went into the surgery,” Tisdale said. “I am just maybe a limb short. It’s the same Wayman.”

Tisdale first visited Sabolich exactly a month after having his surgery. His progress has even amazed Sabolich, who has worked in the prostheitcs field for years.

“For someone that soon after surgery, he has a great attitude,” Sabolich said. “A can-do spirit. You don’t want to dampen that because maybe he’s going to overdo it because he really shouldn’t be moving as fast as he is. His limb is holding up, which is a great credit to his surgeon, who did a fabulous job on his leg. He is already walking with a cane. He is at least three, four, five months ahead of schedule.”

Tisdale made the decision to amputate the leg to ensure the cancer would not return. But it was a difficult decision for a person who has been active his entire life. From his playing days to the vast amount of traveling he does an accomplished jazz musician, Tisdale is not one to sit around.

“I think the main thing with the career part of it was having so much success and being able to overcome so much,” Tisdale said. “Then you come to this and I start to question myself and question my body. I have always been able to overcome. I just look at it as another challenge. This is another thing I must defeat. The trickiest part has been trusting the leg. Just trusting that it has me. When you learn how to walk, it’s totally different. It’s learning how to walk again.”

What has helped Tisdale get through this ordeal has been the attitude he takes with him every day. Even though he admits some days are tough, he will not allow himself to get into a funk.

“I have seen so many e-mails and seen so many clips that people have sent me,” Tisdale said. “There are millions and millions of people that are a lot worse off than what my condition is. So for me to sit around and have a pity party, I would look crazy. I am all right, and I am going to be able to help somebody else down the line.”

Tisdale, who played in the NBA for 12 years, said he has gotten pep talks from everyday people and NBA superstars.

“I talk to a lot of amputees,” Tisdale said. “That was a big help. I even talked to Magic Johnson this morning and he was on the phone encouraging me. And I know what he has been through and what he had to give up at the peak of his career to fight a disease. Hearing from different people that have gone down this road really helped me out.”

But according to Sabolich, the will to fight the disease and overcome the obstacles of the amputation was something that has always been inside Tisdale.

“Wayman is a fighter,” Sabolich said. “He feels he can get through anything. Look at what he has accomplished in his own personal life. For this to happen to him, although tragic, it’s one more life hurdle for him. And he just attacks it like he attacks anything else.”

Even though he jokes about it, Tisdale knows he will never be able to run the basketball court the way he did at OU. But those are not the goals he has set for himself.

“I recently had my pond put in my back yard,” Tisdale said. “It looks like a little lake. We named it Bailey Lake. It’s named after my granddaughter. I just want to go there and sit with her and fish. Just simple things.”

This story was written in 2008 shortly before Wayman Tisdale passed away from Cancer. 

Sooners bring home 4th title after improbable season

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Patti Gasso kept running and back peddling. A veteran of the ritual Gatorade showers, the Oklahoma skipper saw her players coming at her with the bucket filled with the thirst-quenching liquid, and she did her best to avoid them using a few moves normally seen on the gridiron.

But much like her Sooners once they got to the Women’s College World Series, the inevitable was bound to happen. Gasso was doused with Gatorade as No. 10 Oklahoma celebrated winning the 2017 softball national championship with a 5-4 victory over No. 1 Florida Tuesday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

“I don’t know who got me,” Gasso said. “I started to see them surround me, so I just surrendered and took it, but it feels good. Feels great. It feels great.”

The title was the second in a row for the Sooners, third since 2013 and fourth in program history.

Entering the WCWS, Oklahoma and Florida ( 61-9) had accounted for the past four national championships. This year would be the tie-breaker with the winner being able to lay claim a dynasty. That honor now goes to OU (58-10).

“I mean, it’s a blessing. It’s an indescribable feeling to win another national championship,” OU captain Kelsey Arnold said. “I just want to let you all know that my teammates are leaders along with me. It’s not just me by myself, and I believe that when we all came together, power of three, that’s what you saw.”

Unlike Game 1 of the Championship Series, it didn’t take the Sooners long to get their first run on the scoreboard. Lead off hitter Nicole Mendes made sure of that by blasting a solo homer on the third pitch of the game from Aleshia Ocasio.

“During my first at-bat, I just knew that I really wanted to get the momentum going, and whatever way it was, with a bunt, with a slap, with a hit, it didn’t matter, but I just wanted to show my team that I was there for them and that I knew that they had my back,” Mendes said. “It just so happened to go over.”

Because the Gators top two hurlers threw more than 100 pitches each Monday night, coach Tim Walton decided to go with his third pitcher, Ocasio.

The Sooners did the exact opposite. Even though Paige Parker also tossed more than 100 pitches in Monday’s 17 inning instant classic, she got the start in Game 2.

Parker had a rough start and gave up two quick runs before being pulled for freshman Mariah Lopez, who surrendered a run before getting out of the inning with Oklahoma trailing 3-1.

The Sooners stormed right back when Shay Knighten hit a 3-run double in the bottom of the second to give Oklahoma a 5-3 advantage. Gators cut it to one run deficit going into the final innings.

Both teams went through a variety of of different pitchers. The Sooners had to bring Mendes in from the outfield to pitch the fifth. But after Mendes allowed a baserunner in the sixth, Paige Lowray was brought and she shut the book on the Gators.

Oklahoma is the lowest seed to ever win the Women’s College World Series. While many believed the Sooners were under-seeded, Gasso says for part of the season her team was not playing like they were worthy of even making it to the tournament.

Even when they got to the regional round and lost the opener to North Dakota State, they were three outs from seeing their season coming to an end. But at the moment, the Sooners remembered who they were and what they are about and won their next four elimination games.

“It was everything.,” Gasso said. “I want to send them a thank you card for waking us up, and they did. And that scare is almost what we needed to step forward and say we’re not going home, not on our field. We’re not going home.”

Knighten was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after coming up with the game-winning hits in Game 1 and 2 of the cnhampionship series.

“Being in those moments, I’ve just got to keep myself calm, just stay relaxed and just kind of not think about what if, just kind of go for it,” Knighten said. “And it paid off, but I just wanted to do everything for my team, and to finish this way is really cool.”

Parker, Mendes and Lowray joined Knighten on the All-Tournament team.

The Sooners only loose one senior from its starting lineup. So their run has a chance to go for a few more seasons.

Before then, the Sooners still have some celebrating to do.

“Words cannot express — I still cannot believe that this happened, with where we started and where we finished,” Gasso said. “There’s so many stories. The journey was unbelievable. I think if you looked at us in February and March, even parts of April, you would never imagine us sitting here right now with trophies in front of us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Fourth time is not a charm for Oregon

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — No. 3 Oregon thought it was a fluke.

When they played Washington back in April and lost two of three games, senior Nikki Udria said her Ducks hadn’t played their best and were looking for redemption.

Well, Oregon got its chance on the biggest stage softball has to offer when the two teams met up in the first round of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday. But once again, it was Washington which got the last word with a 3-1 victory at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

The loss ended a 15-game win streak for the Ducks and sends them to the loser’s bracket of the WCWS. They will play at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against Baylor. If Oregon loses, the Ducks will be sent home. A win would force a second game Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.

“I just felt like we weren’t aggressive at the right times,” Udria said. “I think we waited a little bit too long to get going and put that pressure on them. I’d like to see us come out on Saturday just ready to go. I felt like it took us a long time to get going today.”

However, the Ducks (52-7)had their chances to steal the game and stay in the winner’s bracket.

Oregon’s Lauren Lindvall led off the bottom of the seventh with a double off the centerfield fence. Jenna Lilley was then hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. That brought Danica Mercado to the plate as the game-tying run.

Mercado hit into a fielder’s choice at second. With runners at first and third, it was pinch-hitter Madi Bishop’s turn. She grounded out to first, bringing home a run and cutting the deficit to 3-1. But Gwen Svekis grounded out to end the game.

“Obviously it’s a game that comes down to inches or opportunities especially, and they made the most of their opportunities and we squandered some of ours,” Oregon coach Mike White said. “I think they played a pretty sharp game in all three facets.”

Megan Kleist pitched a complete game, but took the loss. She gave up three runs and four hits while striking out two batters.

Taran Alvelo picked up the win for Washington (49-12) as she allowed five hits and one run.

Trailing 1-0, Oregon didn’t help its cause when the Ducks were caught trying to steal twice by catcher Morganne Flores in the fourth inning.

“Yeah, it’s a difficult thing to answer because a couple of them were missed signals, and they weren’t supposed to go,” White said. “You hate to divert the blame to your players, but like I said, that becomes blame to me for them not knowing how to read the signals.”

The pitching of Kleist and the Ducks’ defense kept the team in the contest. Udria made a diving catch in the sixth for an out that kept UW from gaining any momentum.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Sammie Puentes came to bat with runners on first and second with two outs. With the Ducks chances starting to run out, Puentes had an opportunity to tie the score or give the Ducks the lead. However, she grounded out as another scoring opportunity fell apart.

Washington’s Kirstyn Thomas hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to provide insurance and what would prove to be the winning margin.

The fact this was the fourth time the two Pac-12 foes have faced off wasn’t a factor, according to the Ducks.

“I don’t really think the mindset really changes,” Kleist said. “Coach White said before the game that seeing them a fourth time you can kind of use to your advantage, kind of know the weakness of each hitter and everything, and I just didn’t capitalize on those big pitches in the right times.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer

Womens’ College World Series gets bigger each year

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Patty Gasso first landed at the University of Oklahoma in 1995 after five seasons in Long Beach Community College. She took over a struggling softball program that was an afterthought on its campus. Six years later, Gasso led the Sooners to not only its first appearance in the Womens’ College World Series, but also the program’s first national championship. Since then, Gasso and the Sooners have won two more titles and become a mainstay at WCWS. Being one of the perennial powers in college softball is a position Gasso never imagined possible when she first arrived. That mindset changed after that first trip to the Womens College World Series

“In a weird way, it’s like taking a drug, and once you have it and you feel the euphoria of it, you want to keep going,” Gasso says. “You want more. You want to feel that again. You want to reach that pinnacle again because it is the highest pinnacle you can reach. I think in 2000 when people got a taste of that, it wasn’t a dream anymore. We had been there. We know what it felt like. Once you do it, you know how to get there.”

From 1969 to 1979, the WCWS was in held in Omaha, Nebraska. It was then played in Norman until 1982 when it moved permanently to Oklahoma City. But it was eight years later when the American Softball Association Hall of Fame Stadium (2801 NE. 50th St.) was completed that the Womens’ College World Series finally had a home.

Since then the stadium has become mecca of softball in the United States and the WCWS an event softball players of all ages aspire to be a part of at some point. That includes OU junior Kelsey Arnold, who grew up playing for Holland Hall in Tulsa. Her first time playing for the title was an unforgettable experience.

“It is really special. You can’t describe the feeling,” Arnold says. “It is something you have worked on, and you are finally there and you just want to do the best you can and help your team out and do whatever you can.”

Gasso says the Womens’ College World Series has grown by leaps and bounds since the first time she attended a game in 1994, when the attendance at Hall of Fame Stadium neared 3,000. These days, the stadium has standing room capacity of 10,000 and sells out most games during the tournament.

The NCAA also holds a fan fest in the parking lot of the stadium throughout the event. It includes batting cages, autograph sessions, face painting booths, music and prize giveaways. It’s free to the public.

From the moment the regular season starts, the goal for every team and fan base is to be part of the WCWS festivities.

“The journey is to Oklahoma City,” Brent Colborne, Director of Programming for ESPN. “One destination that all collegiate athletes want to be at. Not only the local fan base in Oklahoma, making it their Super Bowl. I think nationally it’s caught on to where the expectation is, the journey is to Oklahoma City. When people talk about Oklahoma City and softball, they know you’re talking about the Womens’ College World Series.”

The WCWS will be held June 1-7. The field will consists of eight teams from around the country who earned a spot in the tournament after making their way through the regional and Super Regional rounds of the NCAA postseason. The first four days of the tournament is made up of pool play to decide the final two teams, who will play a best of three series to decide the national champion.

ESPN has been covering the WCWS since the 1980s. But according to Colborne, they didn’t start broadcasting every game of the event until 2000 as the event became more popular. ESPN, Oklahoma City, and the stadium officials have now made the WCWS one of the premier championship venues, whether fans are there in person, watching it on television, or streaming it live.

Just a few feet away from the stadium is the Softball Hall of Fame and Museum, which is free to the public. It opened its doors in 1973 It has more than 370 inductees and gives visitors a chance to see

those who made their marks on the game such as Oklahoma City’s Kermit Lynch, John L. Lawson of Edmond and 2016 inductee Jennie Finch.

“One thing that is so great about the museum is that we tell the story of how our sport came to be what it is today,” said Codi Warren, USA Softball Managing Director of Communications. “Not many people are familiar or know how softball was founded, and to be able to tell that story and share some of the great moments that our sport has seen with the new generation of athletes is something we take great pride in. It gives softball players, coaches, umpires and administrators something to strive for, and it’s a great way to honor those who have made an everlasting impact on our game.”

For more information on the stadium or museum, call 405-424-5266 or go to teamusa.org. Tickets for the Womens’ College World Series can purchased at NCAA.com/WCWS or by calling 866-208-0048.

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer with Eyeamtruth.com