OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma doesn’t have to win its third national championship in four years.
It’s not required.
UCLA may well be the better team, a team seasoned by a better conference, sporting a (slightly) better starting pitcher and boasting the kind of program pedigree that allows its players to believe they’re supposed to be in exactly the place they find themselves, supposed to be beating the No. 1 overall national seed, supposed to be winning their program’s 12th World Series crown and their first since 2010.
Nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes you lose.
Yet, what OU cannot do is what it did Monday night inside Hall of Fame Stadium, where the Bruins pounded the Sooners 16-3.
It cannot fall on its face.
It cannot embarrass itself.
It cannot be unready.
It cannot give it away.
The lack of hitting can be forgiven.
Four hits and two runs through six innings — because OU’s one run and three hits in the seventh hardly mattered — is highly unlikely to beat UCLA any time, but Rachel Garcia is an absolute star and sometimes great pitching dominates great hitting.
If OU loses tonight, or even gets shut out, so be it.
Yet, if the Sooners commit another quartet of errors, if they suffer the mental lapses that produced one of those errors and another play, not ruled an error, that cost them a run, if they do what they did in Game 1 of this championship series, they will have let themselves and the Sooner Nation down in a way not easily forgotten.
Are they really this fragile?
In the top of the seventh inning, OU coach Patty Gasso sent Nicole Mendes, typically her center fielder, who hadn’t pitched since April 7 against Baylor.
She was shelled, of course, yielding five runs. The crime, however, was Gasso didn’t bring her in sooner.
Instead, she brought Shannon Saile, who she might well need tonight, into the circle in the fifth inning of a game already lost, needlessly burning up Saile’s confidence — two walks, two home runs — in an appearance she needn’t have appeared.
It was a mistake with future implications. The mistakes OU made with implications in the present all belonged to the players and the one that opened Pandora’s Box was wholly unnecessary.
It belonged to freshman shortstop Grace Lyons, who fielded Kinsley Washington’s bunt single in the third inning. Such a fine bunt, when Lyons’ throw toward first base left her fingers, Washington had already reached the bag.
Lyons had to eat the ball, yet she didn’t, the throw was wild and UCLA’s snowball began rolling down the hill.
Next, Kelli Godin tried to sacrifice, but OU wouldn’t let her. First baseman Shay Knighten fielded Godin’s bunt, threw a little wide to Caleigh Clifton covering the bag and Clifton, who could have caught it, didn’t, allowing Washington to come home and Godin to reach second.
Next, Bubba Nickles would have put runners at the corners with a lined single to left field. Instead, Fale Aviu couldn’t field it cleanly and Godin came around to score rather than halt at third base.
Though UCLA wound up nearly winning by a pair of touchdowns, the game was all but lost when OU fell behind 3-1 in only the third frame.
Another Bruin run came home in the fourth inning when Aviu let the ball get past her on a carom off the wall. It wasn’t an error, just the kind of play that saves a run if it’s made, the kind of play that championship teams make.
The game will be remembered for other reasons.
No team before had ever scored so many runs in the championship series. No team before had ever lost by so many runs in the championship series.
UCLA cranked out 16 hits against the pitching staff with the nation’s lowest earned run average.
A .176 hitter — UCLA’s Brianna Tautalafua, easily the most offensively challenged batter in either team’s lineup — went deep in the sixth inning.
All kinds of things that weren’t supposed to happen or that had never happened, happened.
Still, it’s a simple game.
Bad decisions create bad outcomes. Mistakes haunt. Sometimes, you get away with them. Often, you don’t.
Before it ever became a laugher, the Sooners made those miscues and each one of them cost them dearly.
Not making them again tonight will not guarantee victory. It will only mean walking away with heads held high.
OU must at least do that.
Do that and the Sooners might even make it to Wednesday, too.