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Oklahoma softball’s success has roots in Southern California – Redlands Daily Facts

Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso, clockwise from top right, has recruited top Southern California players such as Cydney Sanders, Kinzie Hansen, Ella Parker, Tiare Jennings and Alyssa Brito as the Sooners seek a fourth straight national championship for an NCAA record. (Center photo by Getty Images; individual photos by The Associated Press)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Mike Stith sat in the batting cage of his Anaheim training facility Monday afternoon as the ping of practice could be heard over the phone line, carrying his voice to Oklahoma City.

Although he is far from the Women’s College World Series, part of his heart is with OKC.

That’s because so many of its players are participating in the Women’s College World Series.

“They all played together,” said Stith, who heads the mega-travel softball program, the Orange County Batbusters, “and to see them all compete together, to say I’m proud … is a bit of an understatement.”

Before the Women’s College World Series started, the tournament’s Batbuster alumni took a photo together — 15 players from teams — but the largest concentration was Oklahoma.

Seven are now Sooners, including five everyday starters.

They have developed a softball dynasty, winning the past three national championships. After surviving a 6-5 overtime nail-biter against Florida on Tuesday, second-seeded Oklahoma will go for an unprecedented fourth straight national title in the best-of-three championship against top-seeded Texas starting Wednesday.

If Oklahoma makes history, it will be fueled by a California pipeline.

It started in 2015 with Sydney Romero.

While the Batbusters had fielded elite softball players many years before — Olympians Jennie Finch and Laura Berg were program alumni — none had ever gone to Oklahoma. And the Sooners had recruited players from California as they built themselves into a national power, winning national titles in 2000 and 2013.

But shortly after that second national title, Sooners coach Patty Gasso decided she wanted Batbusters, starting with Romero. Gasso had tried for several years to bring Romero’s older sister to Oklahoma, but Sierra Romero ultimately chose Michigan, where she became a three-time All-American.

Gasso was heartbroken when she lost Sierra Romero, but felt she had come in too late in Romero’s recruitment.

“So I made it a point that I would be first in line for Syd Romero,” Gasso said of the Vista Murrieta High star a few years ago.

Gasso received not only Romero but also fellow Batbuster Falepolima Aviu from Rancho Buena Vista High in Vista.

As freshmen in 2016, they started and found themselves at the heart of a lineup that won the national championship. It was the first of two in a row for the Sooners and kicked off a run of five of the seven national titles that went to Norman.

The dynasty was fueled by Sooners from Southern California.

This season, four of OU’s five everyday infield starters are Californians: catcher Kinzie Hansen (Norco High), first baseman Cydney Sanders (San Marcos High), shortstop Tiare Jennings (St. Anthony’s High in Long Beach) and third baseman Alyssa Brito (Pacifica High in Garden Grove).

Also in the lineup is regular designated player Ella Parker (Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks).

All of these players are also Batbuster alumni, as is outfielder Hannah Coor (Esperanza High in Anaheim). The Sooner features another Southern California transplant, Quincee Lilio from Great Oak High in Temecula, although she played travel ball for Athletics Mercado-Smith.

What does it mean for Stith?

“All the yelling and screaming and the demanding and frustrating times and the constant poking and pushing of all these kids and the awkward times you have trying to build them up, what it means is they listened,” he said with a chuckle. “They may not have acted like that, but they were paying attention.”

Stith is extremely proud of his Sooners, but he’s had kids all over this Women’s College World Series. On Monday, Batbuster alumnus Reagan Walsh (South Torrance High) hit a homer in Florida’s win against Oklahoma. On Tuesday, fellow Batbuster Jocelyn Erickson, of Arizona, did the same for the Gators.

Parker, a freshman and one of Erickson’s best friends, had a home run of his own and drove in three runs for the Sooners on Tuesday.

“People don’t understand – these are best friends,” Stith said.

They text each other before the game and hug for longer afterwards, but during the game they are all business. Stith recalled a 2017 Women’s College World Series championship series game between Oklahoma and Florida that lasted 17 innings. The Sooners ultimately won, but in the 12th inning the Gators were on their final swing when former Moorpark High star Amanda Lorenz drove in two runs on a ball that missed the wall by inches.

Lorenz slid into third, where former Batbuster teammate Sydney Romero waited.

“And Sydney Romero gives her a shove and laughs,” Stith said. “And I can read her lips.”

“You gotta be kidding me you just hit that ball,” Stith remembers Romero saying.

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