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May 29, 2019
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the 2019 Women's College World Series. We appreciate you being here and your continued support of NCAA Softball. This is the head coaches press conference for Thursday's games, featuring Florida and Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma and Alabama.
We'll start with the Oklahoma Sooners. They are 54-3 overall, the No. 1 seed. This is their 13th Women's College World Series appearance, fourth straight. They defeated Northwestern in the super regionals. Patty Gasso is in her 25th season at Oklahoma.
Coach, tell us about your journey back to the Women's College World Series this year.
PATTY GASSO: Got a very strong group of upperclassmen who have been really great leaders, kind of leading the way for some of the younger kids. I just feel like these guys have competed for the entire season. They've earned it. They deserve it.
But we're absolutely honored to be here and appreciate all the work that goes into putting this on, whether it's ESPN giving us the coverage for us becoming one of the most exciting sports to watch, and all of those that are involved with creating an unbelievable place to play here at the Hall of Fame Stadium.
THE MODERATOR: Next to Patty is Patrick Murphy of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama is 57-8 overall, the No. 8 seed. This is their 12th appearance and their first since 2016. They defeated Texas in the super regionals to get here. Coach Murphy is in his 21st season.
Coach, could you tell us a little bit about your season.
PATRICK MURPHY: I want to say thanks to everyone, too. This is the first time here in a couple years. That two-year period seems like 10 years to me. But this is awesome. The new facility is going to be incredible when it's finally done. It's a feather in the cap of softball.
I can't tell you how much I appreciate the media that's been here. We played Texas in a heck of a super regional, a Thursday night game, 8:00, hotter than heck in Tuscaloosa. Standing at third base, the umpire standing next to me, I said, â€˜Can you believe this? Look at this.â€™
He said, â€˜Yeah, coach, this is so cool.â€™
Had almost 4,000 people on a Thursday night at 8:00, on TV. Could have stayed home, lots of other things to do. People chose to come to the sport of softball. I can't thank the media enough for helping us with that, because you make it worthwhile to the fan.
It's an honor to be sitting next to Patty (Gasso), Tim (Walton) and Kenny (Gajewski). I've known them for years. Wish I wasn't on this side of the bracket, but it is what it is.
This is one of the youngest teams we've had here. Only three girls on our team have experience. Three of our seniors played here as freshmen, everybody else is a newbie. It's exciting for us and the University of Alabama to be back.
THE MODERATOR: Next to Coach Murphy is Tim Walton. The Florida Gators are 49-16 overall. They have the No. 5 seed. This is their 10th College Women's World Series appearance, their third straight. They defeated Tennessee in the super regionals. Coach Walton is in his 14th season at Florida.
Coach, tell us a little bit about your year.
TIM WALTON: Also, an honor to be up here with one of my best friends growing up. Coach Gasso gave me my first opportunity to coach softball. Coach Murphy and I played each other, a lot of respect for each other's programs for many years.
I echo the same sentiments. What USA Softball and the NCAA have done to the commitment for the student-athletes at the venue is really impressive.
I knew we made it as a sport the other day when I got on ESPN and checked the scores of Coach Murphy's game. I usually go to the top and scroll across the top, try to search for the games. Lo and behold, the softball scores are on the main page of the scores on the ESPN app. Thankful for all ESPN has done to grow this sport, give these young women a great opportunity to showcase their talents.
Our journey has been a little different than what we've been accustomed to. We have a younger team. Some older players that have experience, but we have some players that we've been counting on this year that have never been counted on before. It showed in a lot of games.
We finally figured out a way to continue to play well and play together as a team. Really enjoy my group to be around every single day.
It's an honor to be back here. It does not ever get old. Winning is really, really hard to do, although the people around me here make it look really, really easy year in and year out. Again, appreciate the coverage. Just excited to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Next to Coach Walton is Kenny Gajewski from Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls are 44-15 overall, they are the No. 13 seed. This is their eighth Women's College World Series appearance, and their first trip since 2011. They defeated the defending champions Florida State in the super regionals. Coach Gajewski is in his fourth season at Oklahoma State.
Coach, take us through a little bit of your season.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: Obviously thank you to all of you who make all this thing go. We're a proud program. We're excited to be here for the first time in a lot of years.
But I'm excited to be here with this group here. I think I counted up 35 appearances between this group here. Now it's 36 with my first one (smiling). David, Goliath.
We're extremely excited to be here. I've got a lot of history with this whole group, with Coach Gasso, used to take care of her field. She was kind enough to take me along on some trips, treated me like family. I learned a lot from her.
Obviously with Tim, we go way back. A lot of people talk about our story at OU, but we go back even to our junior college days when we played on the same team. I'm proud to be just a leaf on the branches here.
Coach Murphy, I've got to know him through Coach Walton, coaching at Florida. Have a ton of respect for these guys.
We're just excited. Appreciate the story that gets told about our team. I got two kids that have got some experience here, different schools. We were able to bring those kids in to help us with an already talented team. We just continued to break some barriers down that you've got to do to get to this point.
Extremely happy for our kids. We had to earn it. We had to go to a tough place and play, beat a team that thought they couldn't be beat. That's a credit to Lonni (Alameda) and her staff, the way that they play, prepare.
We're excited. We've got a lot of energy and a lot of quirky stuff about us. But it's who we are. We love this game. We love what we do. We're excited to be here to represent OSU.
THE MODERATOR: We'll turn it over to you guys now for questions.
Q. Tim, if you could speak to what it means to be sitting next to Kenny, the trials and tribulations you had together, maybe how proud you are of what he's accomplished. Kenny, if you could counter that, talk about how your experience at Florida helped prepare you for this moment.
TIM WALTON: Kenny and have been friends for a long, long time. He taught me most everything I thought I knew about the game of baseball when I was a young freshman, 17 years old on campus. He was a redshirt freshman at junior college. The experience I gained at that school shaped me to not only being a better baseball player and baseball person, but the people we had on our group, on our staff, were really, really incredible. Just a lot of the guys in that program really took me under their wings, taught me not only to play the game, how to act, cheer, pick pitches, pick signs, learn how to bunt, hit-and-run, things I never knew existed in the game of baseball. It translated from all the things I learned from a work ethic standpoint. It means a lot to me.
As a person, Kenny and I, I was in his wedding, lived at his house. I probably got the job at Oklahoma in large part because of him and Patty's trust in him. So, it's very, very cool to be sitting up here.
He was at our practice on Wednesday night before the regionals. I was at his practice in the fall, not knowing we'd ever match up against each other, but just as friends, to lean on each other and ask questions.
Mike (Holder) called me from Oklahoma State was interested in Kenny being a candidate. We had a long conversation about Kenny. I told him he would be lucky to have Kenny to revamp the program, get the program back into the winning ways they're used to.
Means a lot. Pretty special feeling to be sitting next to your best friends. Our kids (are only) three days separated in birth and have been best buddies growing up. A lot more history than people would ever know, and a lot of stories that Kenny and I can't share while we're sitting up here.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: I think for me it's surreal because getting here is so hard. These guys here, this whole group here, make it look so easy. It's not. I know that.
I just learned so much from Tim, just the everyday grind. I know where he learned that. He learned a lot of from our junior college days, from Coach Gasso as well, the way she runs her program.
I've been lucky. That's the bottom line. I'm lucky to be around people like this. But it's more than anything still about relationships. We just happen to be softball coaches. I'm the young one, they're the old ones. I kind of sit up here, I'm just going to learn. This is like a laboratory for us, keep learning and growing.
But I'm just super thankful for Tim and his family and Florida for taking a chance on a groundskeeper, went to be a director of ops, now sitting here at OSU as the head coach. I just have so much to be thankful for.
I texted Tim, I told him I'm super thankful for every opportunity that he afforded me.
Q. Coach Gasso, Kenny talked the other day about how you're kind of the groups Mom, the coaching tree you have.
PATTY GASSO: Excuse me?
Q. That's what he said. He said it.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: Remember we kind of talked about that?
PATTY GASSO: No.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: You don't (laughter)?
Q. What does it mean to you to see him from being the groundskeeper to now?
PATTY GASSO: First of all, the stories they won't tell I can tell. I know their stories. You can catch me afterwards (laughter).
I'll admit it, I have known these guys, all of these guys, for over 20 years. To see where they started and where they are now really doesn't have a lot to do with me. It's more of them. They have an absolute desire to want to learn. They've always been that way.
Kenny and I just kind of talked about the World Series, things that might help him. To watch Tim and what he's done throughout his career has been amazing. To feel like I might have a little piece of something to do with that is an absolute honor.
I don't get to see them a lot or tell them a lot because we're always in that win mode. But I'm really proud of these guys. It's really been cool to see their journey together, but also, I mean, the fact that we're all sitting here, a lot of this has gone through Oklahoma, is just a testimony to, I don't know, learning and rooting from afar. Just to be part of it is an honor.
Q. Coach Gasso, you've obviously had plenty of battles with Coach Murphy's program. What makes that program such a tough out in this situation?
PATTY GASSO: Well, because we wear the same colors, we get confused when we're on the field, so...
He always has his team ready to play. For some reason we always seem to face each other. We were here a couple years ago sitting right in this same place. Coach Murphy always has his team ready to play. They always have fire. They're fearless. They're well-balanced. They've got speed. They've got power. They've got pitching. But they're a team that always comes out ready to play. We know we've got to be at our best when we face a team like Alabama.
Q. Coach Murphy, from your perspective?
PATRICK MURPHY: I think this year she seems to have athletes in every position, a top-notch looking athlete at every position. She's got a lot more pop I think than normal up and down the lineup.
I mean, I think I don't know home runs you have, over a hundred, I believe, but just tremendous power. But they also have speed. It's not like they're plodding athletes. They can run, too.
I always tell my strength coach, I want to lead the nation in home runs and stolen bases. I think one year when we played Oklahoma, they were leading in home runs, we were leading in stolen bases. They were third in stolen bases; we were the opposite. I think it was cool that both sides put a priority on athleticism.
Q. Patty, Women's Final Four, Muffet McGraw made news by saying there weren't enough women coaching, and she wasn't going to hire any more men on her staff, her statement to try to get more women involved. We're at the World Series, four women head coaches, four men. Is that a problem in softball or do you think it's pretty well-distributed in terms of the gender coaching?
PATTY GASSO: You're setting me up (laughter).
Look, to be honest, the one thing that makes me the happiest is when my players go into coaching. That makes me happy and I'm proud because I feel like they might see that I'm able to do it. As stressed as I look, as grumpy as I am, it doesn't deter them.
Also having a family that they see that I've raised a family as a mother and as a coach, it's not easy. There's no more joy for me than seeing our players go into it.
At the same time these guys have made our sport better. Guys have made our sport better. I'm not saying, you just have to hire women only. Men in our sport have made our sport better.
But these players know the game because they play it. There's something to be said about that, the experience of being on the field.
So, like I said, I'm not counting, I just will tell you as a woman coaching women, to see them go into coaching is one of the greatest feelings I have as a coach.
Q. For you three men, how do you see that issue? Is that something you think about? Do you want to try to get your players, if they're so inclined, into coaching, open doors for them? How do you address this?
PATRICK MURPHY: I agree absolutely. To me when they become a coach, I feel like they've had a good experience as a student-athlete. It is awesome for me, too.
I have my first assistant play for me at Louisiana-Lafayette, has been with me for 21 years. My pitching coach played for me at Alabama. Then this is her eighth season, I believe. My volunteer is also a female that pitched at Drake. This is her second year.
I think it's the same way with me. I think it's a sign they had a good experience as a student-athlete if they go into coaching.
TIM WALTON: Yeah, I agree. I have quite a few of my former players now coaching, as well. One is coaching at Oklahoma State. Have had quite a few others along the way.
I've hired one of my former players to be our video coordinator. We also try to get all our players, as many as we can, that want to continue to learn under us and get their masterâ€™s degrees, keep on moving.
I'm the same way. I have an all male staff right now. My former player at Oklahoma, Eric Thomas, is my outfield coach and hitting coach with me. My pitching coach is Mike Bosch, who came from Syracuse. I actually tried to hire three other women to take the job before Mike took it, but it was tough on some of them for their moves, some other things.
Ultimately, I agree with Coach Gasso, I would love to hire my former players that have done it as well. In the case of hiring, you have to hire the best person that fits your program for wherever you're at and trying to get to.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: I would echo the same thing. We're starting to see some of our kids that are wanting to coach. I think that's, like these guys have said, you know your program is moving in the right way when they want to stay in and do what you do.
I made a pitching coach change a couple years back. I hired a man. But I tried to hire some females first. I didn't even really think about it, that it had to be a female first. I just wanted to hire the best coach, the best person that could help us lead, whether they're men or women.
I think your question's good. I know it's talked about. It's harder when you're a man probably to answer that. But I'm thankful that OSU took a chance on me. Hopefully they felt like they got the best person for their job.
Q. Kenny and Tim, how much did Coach (Larry) Cochell shape your coaching style at all, influence you as softball coaches?
KENNY GAJEWSKI: I can remember a couple words that Coach Cochell would talk to us about: relax, intensity. Those are words that stick with me. I think that's how we try to run our place. We have a lot of fun, but we are in tune.
I wasn't as good as Tim, Russ Ortiz, these guys that played some pro ball, were Major League All-Stars, stuff like that. I was kind of glue. I think I was. At least that was my role. I got to pitch some. My role was glue.
Coach Cochell reluctantly at times let us kind of take over, I would say. I like to talk a little trash, have fun. He didn't like it a whole bunch, but when he saw how our team played and had fun, it was respectful. It was cool to see him evolve at that point in time in his career.
He's a great man. I wish I could see him more. But I know he's proud of us, he's proud of all of us, proud of all his players that have gone on to coach and/or be successful in life.
TIM WALTON: I've had conversations with Coach Cochell and thanked him many of times for teaching me different things about the game and different things about life. One of the cool things about being in a locker room with 25 guys that come from different parts of the country is everybody is groomed differently. I think Larry Cochell taught us a lot about how to be better men.
We worked really hard at the junior college level. We were a bunch of scrappy, blue-collar guys. I think Larry taught us what it looks like from a major Division I school that had Division I resources. Bought a chaplain to guys on Sunday for guys that wanted chapel. Things we never seen before from Southern California.
Being in the Midwest, part of a family like that, was very special. Coach Cochell is a big reason why I've been able to move on and be a professional like I am now, because I learned a lot of things from him, his family, his kids. I saw you can have your family in the dugout, locker room, still have a professional environment. I really respect him a ton.
Q. Tim and Patty, could you talk about some of the things you saw in Kenny that made you willing to take the grounds guy on some trips, or give him a chance to coach on your staff?
TIM WALTON: Gosh, I don't want to put any words into Coach Gasso's mouth. I mean, she saw the level of detail that Kenny put into our field. I don't think anybody had ever put that kind of detail into the University of Oklahoma softball facility. The sod, the dirt, getting it exactly the way she wanted it, manicured and groomed.
I think she would agree he was pretty funny, loosened up the dugout a little bit. He did talk some trash. Sent me to the dugout, slap him a couple times, say, â€˜You can't say that. That might be Lisa Fernandez, you got to take it easy over there.â€™
I think it was really cool to see the passion that Kenny has always had for life, for groundskeeping, for softball, all that stuff.
But I think my thing, I tried to hire Kenny many of times. He wouldn't take it. At one point in time he was the heads groundskeeper in Oklahoma. He started his own business to have a little bit of a different life. I tried to get him.
(He said) â€˜I can't be an assistant softball coach coming from Champions Turf Management Company.â€™ At the end of the day, Kenny knows more about stuff, it doesn't have to be softball, baseball, groundskeeping, turf, dirt. He knows more about stuff. He's fun to be around. If he doesn't know what he's talking about, he'll fake it till he makes it. He makes you better. It was pretty easy for me.
PATTY GASSO: They needed each other. I needed them to balance each other out, no doubt.
But Kenny had a really fun, great personality, attention to detail, like Tim said. Very prideful in what he did for us at OU. But he brought an energy into the dugout. Has a personality that is very engaging. He did talk trash. I probably sent Tim down to tell him to stop talking at the time (smiling).
He's got passion. You can feel it even when he talks. Am I surprised that we are all sitting up here right now? No, I'm not.
Q. Patty, you spoke about these two gentlemen.
PATTY GASSO: I can't talk about these two anymore (laughter).
Q. The Florida connections here. Another Florida connection is Jen Rocha. Speak to the job that she's done.
PATTY GASSO: It was hard for both of us. I lost my right-hand man who has been with me for over 20 years. My thought was trying to get someone who has been at OU before, knows the system, who understands me. I thought it would be kind of a longshot. I did talk with Tim before I talked to Jen.
There's just family connection here for her that had a lot to do with her decision. But when you have a player who has been in your program, when they come back after a long period, it's very easy. It is an easy flow because of the familiarity - you know what I'm trying to say - we're familiar with each other. It was easier for me, although it was very difficult to lose someone who's been with you from day one in Melyssa Lombardi.
She's made it easier because I thought this was going to really be a tough transition. She's calm and she's cool and that helps me a lot. She knows her craft very well. It's been a really good transition.
Q. Coach Murphy and Coach Gasso, playing for the 2012 championship, talk about how much the game has grown since then. How much do you think that series may have helped elevate this to the relevance of softball around the nation?
PATRICK MURPHY: For us, it was huge obviously. It was tremendous exposure for our program. Obviously our first national championship. We had been here I think it was the eighth time. It was like I was going to be the Buffalo Bills coach.
Finally, it was epic, because I don't think we ended until 12:59 a.m. Just unbelievable for our program. It kind of raised the stature, especially in the state. Obviously, college football is king in Tuscaloosa. We led the nation in attendance for 13 consecutive years now. They come and follow us, as well.
I think it just raised the level of our program 10 times.
PATTY GASSO: I'm not exactly sure, but one of the first times a championship went into the third game. It was a big deal for both programs. There was controversy with it. There were all kinds of stuff going on. But that is just part of the game. It's what you got to deal with, learn from, so forth. But it was exciting. It was highs and lows for both sides, I guess.
I do believe that series was so intense, you had some of the best players in college softball to this day on both sides of the field. I do think it did elevate or get people wanting to watch, especially the excitement of that one game that winner takes all.
Q. In your opening statements, each of you commented on the growth of softball. I wanted your thoughts on what you think has contributed to that growth, statistically well documented, but from your eyes, what do you think has contributed to that and how have you seen it manifest in your programs or more broadly than that?
PATTY GASSO: I think training is better. There are better coaches out there training these young athletes when they're young. There are specialists for everything that you could imagine, from mental coaches to pitching coaches, throwing coaches, hitting coaches, strength coaches. They have everything they need.
There's a lot of technology out there where people can learn from. But I just think its athletes that are being trained well, getting stronger, younger. I think television and coverage by ESPN has engaged young athletes to say, I want to be there one day. That is a motivation and encouragement for these kids.
I attribute a lot of it to just good training throughout the entire country, not just in one area.
PATRICK MURPHY: I think it's the game itself. I have people at mass or in Publix or the gym, wherever, come up to me and say, It's so exciting, it's so fast. The number one reason we like to watch your team play is they're having fun.
Everybody is close to the field, so you can hear everything. You can hear the umpire, interaction with the coaches, players, everything. The proximity of the stadiums I think has also helped.
Ours seats 4,000, there's not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you're at, you're going to see a lot of action. Time of the game, too. Usually it's two, two and a half hours. You see a great matchup with two really good teams. You can go do whatever you want the rest of the day.
I think the fans have really bought into our sport.
TIM WALTON: I was asked this question in 2007 at our super regional press conference, about what helped us grow our program. The question that Beth Mowins asked me was, â€˜Does our football program's success have anything to do with your softball program's success?â€™ At the time I was like, â€˜I don't know even our football coach.â€™
I go back and think about that same question. I go, Absolutely. The BCS, the rise of Florida football, really had a great impact on Florida softball, us being able to go out and recruit a lot of those athletes that Coach Gasso mentioned, how they're training across the country. We were able to be a household name across the country, able to go out and recruit better kids.
I think just the support that our athletic department gives our program, what the SEC does for all of our programs in college softball, our conference and our program itself have really been impacted by the growth of our football, the BCS, the financial resources, then what we're able to get in return to help our athletes be successful on and off the field.
I think the rise comes from putting a better product on the field and those kids are happy, they love playing, they want to win. I think everybody that watches the game on television or in the ballpark just sees how fast paced, how fun it is to be in the environment, but it's all about the athletes. It's all about being able to recruit high-quality student-athletes. I think that's really helped and impacted the game the most for me.
KENNY GAJEWSKI: I probably have the least -- I do have the least experience in this with all them. But I got to watch this through a different lens. I was in Tim's dugout at A&M in his first regional when Amanda Scarborough was unreal and beat them. So, I got to watch it from a fan or a best friend, his dugout.
I got to be there with Coach Gasso in a different role. I've got to see this game grow and change from a different set of eyes.
Now to be in this, I think obviously it's TV, it's these kids. They're super talented in what they do. Great personalities. But I think what Murph said, too, these fans, the way our field is, it's small. Every fan feels like they can reach out and touch these kids, get to know them. You go to OU and play, they hit a home run, they get a standing O. It's like crazy.
All these environments these great programs have created, that's what these people hold onto. It's a moment in time where they can go, they feel like they're part of their program, or our programs. In this day and age, that's what people want. They want that instant gratification or instant feeling. These girls, programs, schools have created this. That's what we hold onto.
It's kudos to TV for seeing that and helping us grow it. They've been a big part in helping us grow this, asking us to make some changes. We bought in and we've done that.
There's just so many things, but it's a beautiful game that moves so fast. I don't think we're anywhere close to where we're going to be in the next five years.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We'll see you tomorrow.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports