In the 2023 Women's College World Series the Oklahoma Sooners, two-time defending champions (2021 & 2022) and riding a 50-game winning streak, played the Stanford Cardinal. The tournament's double elimination rules meant that the Cardinal had to win to keep their hopes of going to the championship series alive. The game was tied 2-2 in extra innings when the Stanford coach made a crucial decision. With an Oklahoma runner already on third and two outs she elected to walk Jayda Coleman, the Sooner's leadoff hitter who had hit a home run earlier in the game.
This brought to the plate slugger Tiare Jennings, a Junior who is one of the best hitters in the country. On the mound for the Cardinal was freshman NiJaree Canady, likely the nation's best pitcher, allowing the fewest runs and most strikeouts per game in the country. Jennings had strikeout only eight times in her 165 at bats this season, four of those were while facing Canady. This was a calculated decision by the coach to get a matchup, that by the numbers, favored the Cardinal.
Things were going to the Cardinal plan as Canady quickly got two strikes on Jennings. The next pitch was fouled off, keeping the count no balls and two strikes. The fourth pitch was a curveball that Jennings, with a controlled swing, dropped in right-center field, a double that scored both runners, winning Oklahoma the game.
We often falsely judge a decision by the outcome that ensues. Deciding to walk a batter to face one of the best hitters in the country is a gutsy call. If Canady had managed to throw strike three, we'd laud coach Allister's brilliant decision. In this case, she instead faced tough questions in the post game press briefing about her "questionable" choice. Allister made the right decision and got the worst outcome.
“I think we’d make the same decision again,” she said. “Obviously hindsight is 20/20, and it didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but we liked the matchup.
“At this point, you can’t be careful. You’ve got to trust your gut and go with the best decision.”
- Jessica Allister, Stanford softball coach
Decisions set our course, they don't guarantee our results. Before a scenario plays out the best decision makers are using all available data, team and individual expertise and experience, and weighing the options to make a choice. What coach Allister alludes to as a gut call is far from it, her instinct is informed by the years of playing and coaching the game, knowing her player's abilities and talents, weighing the potential paths that could be chosen. "We liked the matchup," she said, that's not a gut call, that's a master of her craft using her mastery to decide on a course of action.
Decisions give us the necessary clarity to move forward, they set a direction and give us purpose. A decision provides us the opportunity to achieve a desired outcome. Outcomes are the results of our execution compared to our expectations, not a measurement of how well we make decisions.
The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us. A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.