WCWS roundtable – Is 2022 Oklahoma softball the best ever, plus way-too-early 2023 predictions

It took 137 NCAA tournament games, and for the second consecutive year, Oklahoma softball is Women’s College World Series champion.

Led by home run queen Jocelyn Alo, who broke Lauren Chamberlain’s all-time mark in March and shattered it throughout the 2022 season, the Sooners set WCWS record after WCWS record, beating Texas 16-1 in Game 1 on Wednesday and 10-5 in Game 2 on Thursday.

Alo, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and teammate Tiare Jennings both broke the previous records for most homers in a WCWS (five) and most RBIs in a WCWS (13), helping give coach Patty Gasso her sixth national championship.

The Sooners, who led the nation in batting average, scoring and ERA, set records as a team for the most home runs (17) and runs (64) scored in a WCWS, breaking the previous records that they set last year (15, 49).

Last year, our analysts picked who they thought was the best team in college softball history. Some picked 1994 Arizona, which went 64-3 and was part of the dynasty that won five titles in seven years. Some picked 2008 Arizona State, which outscored opponents by 356 runs over the course of the season. When we brought it to a fan vote, our audience picked 2001 Arizona, which slugged a then-Division I record 126 homers and was led by a dominant Jennie Finch in the circle.

But this year’s Sooners made a strong claim at the GOAT label. They went 59-3 and led the country in batting average, scoring and ERA. Forty of their 59 wins were via run rule.

How historically good were this year’s Sooners? Our experts break it down and also add a way-too-early look at the 2023 season.

Where does this year’s Oklahoma team rank among the best ever?

Kayla Braud: First. The best team of all time. No. 1. They probably overtake … the team from last year. I think that there are some incredible teams who have played, but I don’t remember a time when we’ve seen 1-9 be as good offensively. We’ve seen pitchers that are better and have better performances, but not a whole team like this one. I think you can go back to some of the UCLA and Arizona greats, but in this era of competition, to have somebody come through and dominate this much is pretty rare.

Beth Mowins: I think this year’s team and last year’s team are very comparable. You have to go back to those ’90s Arizona teams that could have won five championships in a row — and that lineup was just a monster. I think those two belong with the ’92 UCLA team that lost only twice all year.

Jenny Dalton-Hill: Our Arizona 1994 team would give this Oklahoma squad a great run for the title. Susie Parra and Nancy Evans in the circle, the first team to ever hit 100 home runs, an amazing outfield. Our group was pretty special — much like this group at Oklahoma. Maybe a software designer can create this simulation for us! Either way, both teams deserve respect.

Jess Mendoza: I think it is the best team. Even though we’ve seen the most talented teams, they haven’t seen the same competition as we’ve seen this year. I look at the 64 teams that made it into the tournament, and the fact the championship has an unseeded team. So what Oklahoma’s done, including mercying in the finals, and their entire route to this point, thinking how much talent there is across the country and they’re still doing this, is what makes me think that they are No. 1.

Madison Shipman: That offense. It’s amazing how many times, when they swing, they are perfectly on time and they hit the ball so solid, at such a consistent clip 1-9 throughout their offense. Of course Jocelyn and Tiare, but Jayda Coleman in that leadoff spot, too, has been huge for them — setting the tone and getting on base so she can come around and score. Even Riley Boone has had a great postseason. When you’ve got those players who can step up, and Jocelyn and Tiare who can hit the long ball, there’s never a break in their offense. And I know the pitchers can speak to that too. It’s suffocating. You can not make mistakes.

Amanda Scarborough: We talked last year about their team being the best, but I think this year’s, especially with the experience they had, takes it. Jana Johns has quietly been a player for them. She always steps up in big moments and rounds out their offense. If you’re so focused on Alo and Jennings, there are so many other weapons behind those two that can also beat you.

Michele Smith: I think you have to put their offense with some of the best ever, right up there with some of the Arizona teams from the mid-’90s. Their power numbers are off the charts. Jocelyn Alo will be known as the best power hitter ever — and she hit over .500.

Does Oklahoma have what it takes to sustain this success next year?

Danielle Lawrie: You get Jordy Bahl with another year of experience; she’s going to be significantly better. They’ll probably need another pitcher, a transfer.

Mowins: I think it would be foolish to think there wouldn’t be a little bit of a step back without Alo, and we wait and see what the pitching staff looks like next year. The transfer portal has served them well in recent years.

Scarborough: They’ve won with transfer pitchers. It was Giselle Juarez last year, Hope Trautwein, Shannon Saile last year as well. Hope was the pitcher here, and Jordy throughout the season of course. Don’t forget about their great recruiting classes.

Dalton-Hill: I think Patty Gasso has developed a culture that now attracts the talent needed to sustain this dominance. She has provided the environment where winning breeds winning and the bar has been set. Expectations of incoming freshman are communicated through upperclassmen examples.

Smith: I don’t think you can replace Jocelyn Alo. When you look at her numbers — we were talking about her weighted runs created (wRC+), it’s far and away better than anyone else. I don’t think she’ll ever be replaced, but I think the question will be who are they going to get to hit behind Tiare Jennings so she can continue to do what she does. Maybe that’s Grace Lyons, but then who’s behind her? Patty always has something up her sleeve.

Editor’s note: Weighted runs created is a comprehensive hitting stat that adjusts for sport and run environment. Alo’s wRC+ of 308, according to 6-4-3 Charts, is higher than the Division I average (100) and the highest wRC+ recorded in MLB history (Barry Bonds in 2002 — 244).

Besides Jocelyn Alo, which senior will you miss watching the most?

Mowins: I think here, Janae Jefferson has been a leader at Texas. She’s the program’s all-time hits leader and was a big part in getting this Longhorns team as far as it did, and she was great to watch.

Holly Rowe: Bri Perez from UCLA. She’s been one of the best leaders the Bruins have had and one of their productive players. It also ends a line of eight years of Perez sisters who have been playing there.

Lawrie: South Florida’s Georgina Corrick. I can appreciate that she’s a pitcher who threw a lot more innings than everyone else — It’s kind of old-school. Pitchers used to be one-arm shows, and now you don’t see that. She went 37-5 this year.

Scarborough: The pitchers, Corrick, Keely Rochard (Virginia Tech), Gabbie Plain (Washington), the core Arkansas players of Mary Haff and Danielle Gibson.

Dalton-Hill: I really enjoyed Danielle Gibson Whorton at Arkansas. She’s another player that had the potential to change a game in one swing.

Mendoza: Rochard at Virginia Tech helped bring in so many talented players to that program, and watching the way she’s pitched, she’s been one of my favorite players.

Smith: I think Mia Davidson. She was fun to watch in the SEC with what she did, even though she was kind of under the radar at Mississippi State. Also Sydney Sherrill from Florida State. Her freshman year, winning the national championship, the first-ever for Florida State, she was a big cog in the wheel in the success of that program for the last few years.

Shipman: I loved watching Davidson hit. It felt like she was there forever. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Corrick pitch day in and day out. She had such a variety of pitches that she could throw out there, the pace and the rhythm with which she pitched too. You could almost see the game within the game of attacking different batters. She made it fun for me to put my pitcher’s cap on when I would watch her.

Braud: I think Hannah Adams is up there because she was a good second baseman for Florida, especially defensively. Plain was so good for so long too.

What was your favorite moment of this year’s NCAA tournament?

Lawrie: I was going to say Katie Kistler robbing the home run against UCLA … and then Jayda Coleman made an even bigger one against Texas.

Scarborough: I liked Megan Faraimo’s strikeout with the bases loaded, then her turning back around and hitting a home run. I think I’ll remember that forever.

Shipman: Hannah Adams made a great play in the Blacksburg Super Regional when she ran up the middle, jumped and threw it to first base. I love those types of defensive plays.

Braud: I enjoyed the Northwestern comebacks — three comebacks in three consecutive days in the super regional. That was a pretty rare moment you don’t see — when you’re down in every game and you find a way to come back and punch a ticket. With all the seniors that they had, it was really gutsy.

Rowe: My favorite part is Hailey Dolcini. She started her career at UC Riverside, she started out pitching in a cow pasture and now here she is pitching on the biggest stage. Even though her numbers were tough here, what she’s done in the NCAA tournament, believing in herself in going to a bigger program from Fresno State, her journey has been the most interesting.

Mendoza: I loved seeing the upsets of the Pac-12. As much as we think certain conferences are dominant, then we see it all change when Stanford upset Alabama and Oregon State upset Tennessee. I think it’s good for the game for it to swing back and forth.

Dalton-Hill: I loved seeing Arizona rise above everyone’s expectations and advance to the WCWS. They got into the tournament by the narrowest of margins and proved most people wrong. Seeing Caitlin Lowe step into the biggest shoes in the game, filling in for Mike Candrea, and come away with the finish they had was awesome.

Smith: The depth of the collegiate game and seeing unseeded teams be so successful shows even mid-majors were knocking off Power 5 teams, it shows the depth of where our sport is at, and if you get hot at the right time then you can make a long run in the postseason. Last year started that trend with James Madison and Georgia making it to the World Series, and this year continued that.

Mowins: I’m going the opposite direction. People love a dynasty and they love greatness. As much as people try and say they don’t, the ratings prove otherwise. I think Jocelyn Alo has been the best part of this tournament — watching her home run swings has been fabulous.

What is your bold way-too-early prediction for 2023?

Mowins: I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that Tiare Jennings has put herself as the front-runner for national player of the year.

Smith: If not Jennings then Megan Faraimo. If she works on her hitting, she can really open the lineup for UCLA. If she can hit well and pitch well, I think she could put herself in the running for player of the year.

Rowe: I want to say Arkansas’ Chenise Delce. I think she’s shown herself as somebody who if she keeps developing, can be really special in the circle.

Braud: My bold prediction is that the ACC does get a team in the WCWS field next year. Clemson could. Kathryn Sandercock is back for Florida State and could be one of the best pitchers in the game next year.

Scarborough: I think Oklahoma’s going to be the team to beat.