OU softball: Q&A with ESPN analyst, former Arizona star Jenny Dalton-Hill
Jenny Dalton-Hill had a press-box view as Oklahoma’s winning streak was snapped, and the record one she contributed to at Arizona was preserved.
Dalton-Hill was National Player of the Year and Women’s College World Series MVP in 1996. It was her third national championship as a player, and she won another as an Arizona assistant in 1997.
The Wildcats won 47 consecutive games across the 1996 and 1997 seasons. It’s a streak that, until Sunday, was under threat. Oklahoma had won 41 in a row before losing to Wisconsin.
Dalton-Hill, now an analyst for ESPN, called the Norman Regional games. She’ll be working the UCLA super regional this weekend. The Oklahoman caught up with Dalton-Hill to get her thoughts on the Sooners, and how they might stack up with her Arizona teams.
Q: What were your impressions seeing OU in person for the first time?
A: "I love how calm they are. There's always a sense of urgency when you're playing those games, but there was never a sense of panic. There was never a sense of trying to do too much. Those five seniors have really set the tone for this group. That senior leadership has really trickled down to those two great freshmen in Grace Green and Grace Lyons — who not only are amazing athletes, but who have taken on that calm confidence as well."
How surprised were you to see OU lose and the streak end?
"I think the whole country was surprised to see Oklahoma lose. Wisconsin, while a very good team on paper, should not have come away with that win. That's why you play the game. My concern is that a vulnerability was brought forth that maybe hadn't been seen before. It's nuts how it all played out, but Patty Gasso said to us that she was glad to see the streak come to an end so that they didn't have to carry that burden."
What vulnerability do you think Wisconsin picked up on?
"Kaitlyn Menz, the pitcher from Wisconsin, was really painting the outside corner. And for me, that's a pitch that Oklahoma could very easily dominate on. They have beautiful swings, but they also train their eye to be attuned to the zone. The hitters did not want to swing at it. They've trained themselves to stay off that pitch, and Menz saw that as an opportunity and she really capitalized on it. That is a pitch Oklahoma can totally hit. It was more a decision they were making to not swing at it. I have no doubt they'll make that adjustment.”
How would you compare Arizona's streak in 1996-97 to the one Oklahoma just went on?
"I don't know that I want to comment a whole lot on that, because it's like comparing apples to oranges. Oklahoma played really tough opponents in the beginning of the season, and that's where their losses happened. Then they got into Big 12 play, and how many times have they run the table in the Big 12? That tells me that while their conference is hard to get through, they have dominated with a bunch of wins. I don't know that there's a way to compare the 90s with almost 2020. I think they had similar qualities with a lot of powerful hitters and great defense, but the parity on both ends is very different."
Who is the favorite heading into the Women's College World Series?
"If you had asked me that in the 90s when there was no super regional and there was no championship series, I think it would be a whole lot easier to make that prediction. But now with the addition of super regionals, I think that challenges everyone to manage the pitching staff and make sure everyone stays healthy. Anymore, being able to say there's a clear-cut winner is really, really difficult."