Oklahoma’s Parker among greatest college softball pitchers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma’s Paige Parker is closing out one of the great college softball pitching careers.

As a sophomore in 2016, she was the Most Outstanding Player of the Women’s College World Series as she helped the Sooners win the national title. Last season, she was a key figure as the Sooners repeated. Now, she’s trying to help Oklahoma join UCLA as the only schools to win three straight national titles.

”She’s been the face of our program since she stepped on it,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. ”She kind of grabbed the torch from Keilani (Ricketts) and said, `I’ll take it from her,’ and she’s done a great job.”

After eight career WCWS wins, she finally took a loss Thursday against Washington . That means Saturday’s elimination game against Arizona State could be the last time she takes the circle for the Sooners.

”It’s just about just making a change mentally and just being ready to go out on the field and give it your all and leave nothing out there,” she said.

Parker was one of four finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and was selected by the USSSA Pride in the first round of the National Pro Fastpitch League draft. She is one of 34 players to be chosen to one of the three National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America teams all four years of her college career.

”It’s truly a blessing to be a four-time All-American,” she said. ”This is something that you only dream about. Very, very blessed and just can’t thank my family enough for always being there for me, and my coaches and teammates.”

Parker went 28-7 as a freshman and matched a Division I record with four perfect games. She went 38-3 as a sophomore, collected five wins at the World Series and led the nation in victories. She went 26-5 as a junior and won three more World Series games. She’s 29-3 as a senior and posted by far the best earned run average of her career. She entered the Women’s College World Series with an ERA of 0.86, second in the nation.

”I think just taking a mindset coming into this year, knowing it was my last year, it was just to go out and give it my all and pitch fearlessly,” she said.

Even in her loss to Washington on Thursday, she gave up only one run and three hits in six innings. Gasso pulled her in the fifth inning, then put her back in the game in the sixth – a common practice in softball – with the bases loaded. She escaped without allowing a run, showing the kind of toughness she has displayed throughout her career.

”Coming back in, it was just shutdown mode, do whatever I had to do to not let them score,” she said.

Before the World Series began, Parker couldn’t quite grasp all she had accomplished.

”It’s hard to put it in perspective right now, but it’s just an honor to be back at the College World Series,” she said. ”This is the time of your life. It’s so much fun to be here with your teammates. I’m just so fortunate that I get to finish my career here.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .