NORMAN – Winners of back-to-back national championships, the Oklahoma softball coaches have repeated as the NFCA Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year, the National Fastpitch Association announced Wednesday.
Head coach Patty Gasso, associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi, assistant coach J.T. Gasso and volunteer assistant coach Andrea Gasso took home the honor for the second straight year after guiding the Sooners to a 61-9 record and the fourth national championship in program history.
Gasso's staff, which included Lombardi, was also tabbed the nation's best in 2000 and 2013 after the Sooners won their first two national titles. OU has been recognized as the Division I Central Region Coaching Staff of the Year for each of the last six seasons.
After losing their opening game of the Regionals, tenth-seeded OU rattled off four straight elimination-game wins before sweeping No. 7 Auburn in the Super Regionals. Oklahoma then took down No. 15 Baylor, No. 6 Washington and No. 3 Oregon.
Game one of the WCWS Championship Series against top-seeded Florida was an instant classic as the Sooners prevailed 7-5 in 17 innings, the longest game in Finals history (since 2005). Twice Oklahoma had Florida down to its final out, but the Gators rallied in the bottom of the seventh and bottom of the 12th to prolong the game. In the top of the 17th, Shay Knighten hit a three-run homer to put the Sooners up for good.
Oklahoma then swept the WCWS Championship Series with a 5-4 win in game two. Knighten was again the hero as she hit a bases-loaded double, turning a 3-2 deficit in the second inning into a 5-3 lead.
Coming off a national title in 2016, the Sooners started the season ranked No. 1 in the NFCA preseason poll for the first time in program history. However, the team would slip as low as No. 13 as late as Week 7. OU was 23-7 on March 18, but rebounded to win 38 of its last 40 contests en route to the national title and a unanimous No. 1 ranking in the final polls.
For the fifth time in the last six seasons Oklahoma had at least three All-Americans with Knighten, Caleigh Clifton and Paige Parker on the second team. OU also had seven All-Region honorees for the fourth straight season and tied a school record with five first-teamers.
Winners of the Big 12 for the sixth straight year, Oklahoma swept nearly every major conference award, including Player of the Year (Knighten), Pitcher of the Year (Parker), Freshman of the Year (Nicole Mendes) and Coach of the Year (Gasso). The Sooners put four players on the All-Big 12 First Team, four on the All-Big 12 Second Team and two on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team.
The team ranked second in the country in winning percentage (.871), sixth in fielding percentage (.977), ninth in runs per game (6.26) and 10th in team earned run average (1.55).
Paige Lowary led the nation in saves with 11, a total higher than any Sooners team in program history. Knighten, meanwhile, was seventh in the country with 70 RBI, while Clifton was ninth in hit by pitch per game (0.37).
A 2012 NFCA Hall of Fame inductee, Gasso just completed her 23rd season at the helm of the OU program. She owns a career collegiate coaching record of 1307-381-3 (.774) with an overall mark of 11146-322-2 (.780) at the University of Oklahoma. She ranks sixth among active coaches (min. 5 years) and eighth all-time (min. 10 years) in winning percentage, while her win total is 14th all-time and ninth among active coaches.
Gasso has won more Big 12 games (307-85) than any coach in the league's history. Oklahoma has claimed 10 Big 12 regular season and five championship titles under her direction, including the 2017 crown after a 17-1 mark in league play tied for the program's best conference record.