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Oklahoma Does It Again!

Defeats Top-Ranked Florida for Second-Straight NCAA Title

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

OKLAHOMA CITY - Ranked #1 through nearly the entire 2017 season and replete with first-class pitching and hitting, the Florida Gators were odds-on favorites to win it all this year.  The Gators were eager to comply, looking to avenge last year’s early exit in the Super Regional despite similar regular-season dominance.
 
Although they were defending NCAA champions, expectations were somewhat lower for Oklahoma. The Sooners looked like their postseason might end early, but they pulled off a furious comeback to make it into the Super Regionals.

Oklahoma was in one of the easier Regional pools this year.  The three other teams were Tulsa, North Dakota State, and Arkansas.  Arkansas is an SEC school, but Arkansas went 7-17 in conference and ranked 2nd to last in the conference in 2017.

 Maybe Oklahoma thought its Regional pool was too easy and overestimated it, because the Sooners were upset big-time in the first game, losing to North Dakota State 3-2.  It is very rare for a team that loses its first game in the Regional to move on to the Super Regional, and Oklahoma's back was definitely to the wall, but it found a way to win when it mattered.

Oklahoma battled back and defeated Arkansas 5-3 in the losers' bracket, then beat North Dakota State in a revenge game 10-2.  The Sooners were then faced with the formidable task of defeating unbeaten Tulsa twice in a row to advance.  Oklahoma won the first game 6-4, then came up big again to beat Tulsa 3-0.

The Sooners then advanced to the Super Regionals to face #7-seed Auburn.  Oklahoma ace Paige Parker set a new postseason-best by striking out every Auburn starter at least once in a 4-0 win in game one.  The remainder of the pitching staff—and in particular, first-year transfer Paige Lowary—returned the favor in game two with a 5-2 victory and a ticket to the 2017 Women’s College World Series (WCWS).

Eyebrows were raised as Alabama beat Florida in game one of their Super Regional matchup, but Florida quickly waded through the Tide, winning the next two games 2-0 and 2-1 to advance to the WCWS.
 
As expected, Florida trounced Texas A&M in game 1.  The Gators humiliated the Aggies 8-0 in a 5-inning mercy rule victory.  Florida sent ace pitcher 1-A Kelly Barnhill to the mound, and she blanked the Aggies over four innings and only allowed 3 hits while striking out 5.  Florida then sent ace pitcher 1-B Delanie Gourley to the mound for the final inning, and she retired 3 out of 4 batters to end the inning.

The Florida bats pounced early and churned 2 runs on 3 hits in the first inning.  Florida manufactured 2 more runs off 2 hits and a walk to go up 4-0 after 2 innings.  Florida then put up 1 additional run in the 3rd and 3 runs in the 4th.  After a 5th shutout inning, the game was over by mercy rule.

Florida was on a mission, and it was going to be very tough to beat as it added another trouncing to its resume.
LSU was fresh off of an upset victory over UCLA and had to be confident it could play with any team—until it met Florida.  Ace pitcher Kelly Barnhill delivered again for the Gators with a 2nd straight shutout victory.  Barnhill pitched a complete game 2-hitter with 8 strikeouts and 3 walks.

Florida's defense was excellent, but its offense was even better: Janelle Wheaton and Kayli Kvistad hit home runs and collectively drove in 4 runs.  Florida's offense put up 9 hits and 7 runs in 7 innings.  Very impressive.
In two WCWS games, Florida had outscored its opponents 15-0!  That is domination!

Florida then beat Washington 5-2.  The Gators were up 5-0 on Washington until the 7th inning, when the Huskies were able to put up 2 pity runs.  Florida used its 2nd ace pitcher Delaney Gourley to face Washington, and she delivered!  Gourley pitched 7 innings and only allowed 2 runs and 2 hits in the 7th inning.  She also struck out 10.  She was magnificent!

But the real story was Florida's continued offensive assault against other WCWS pitchers. Florida hitters put up 7 hits over 7 innings and manufactured 5 runs.  The top of the Florida lineup was especially impressive: it put up 5 of Florida's 7 hits and was responsible for 4 of Florida's 5 RBI.

If Florida hitters and pitchers continued to put up numbers like this, they would win the WCWS handily.
Meanwhile defending champ Oklahoma advanced past Baylor (6-3), Washington (3-1) and Oregon (4-2) to set the stage for a dream best-of-three final series against #1-seed Florida.

The word epic is rarely an understatement, but that perfectly describes what happened in game one as the Oklahoma Sooners won a 17-inning nailbiting roller coaster slug match.

Oklahoma was up 2-1 in the top of the 7th with 2 outs and 2 strikes, but Gator Sophia Reynoso hit a ball to the outfield that dropped just short of the Oklahoma fielder's mitt and allowed speedy Alesia Ocasio to score all the way from 1st base.  On to extra innings!

In the 12th inning Oklahoma's Fale Aviu hit a 2-run blast to put Oklahoma up 4-2.  After switching sides, Oklahoma was again up with 2 outs and ready to close the Gators out.  There were Gator baserunners at 1st and 2nd.  Then Gator Amanda Lorenz hit a shot to the gap that scored 2 Florida runs and again tied up the game.  Florida had saved themselves from defeat again!!

But despite the sensational comebacks, it all unraveled for Florida in the top of the 17th when Oklahoma freshmen Shay Knighten hit a towering 3-run bomb that put the Sooners up for good 7-4.

This was the longest game in WCWS finals history!! What a historic match!!

Oklahoma jumped out early in game two, putting up 4 runs in the first 2 innings.  Florida answered back with 3 runs in the 2nd and added a 3rd run in the 3rd inning to make the score 4-3.  The Sooners eventually edged out the Gators 5-4 to win it all.

Oklahoma had 4 pitchers pitch in the decisive 2nd game.  Paige Parker pitched the first 3 innings but was pulled after giving up 3 runs over the first 1.2 innings.  Freshman Mariah Lopez then carried the load for 2.1 innings.  Nicole Mendes entered the circle in the 5th inning, then handed the ball off to Paige Lowary who pitched 2 innings of shutout ball in the 6th and 7th to seal the victory.

Sophomore Shay Knighten was named the WCWS championship series most outstanding player.  She came up with big hits in both games to give the Sooners the lead that eventually won the game.  In game one Knighten hit a 3-run home run in the top of the 17th inning to put the Sooners ahead 7-4.  The Sooners went on to win 7-5 in the bottom of the 17th.

In game two Knighten hit a bases-clearing double that scored 2 runs and gave the Sooners a lead they held through the final inning to win the title.  All in all, Knighten hit .350 in 20 at-bats with 7 total hits, 2 doubles, a home run and 8 RBI.

The Sooners now have four national titles in softball.  Only Arizona and UCLA have more with 8 and 11, respectively.  Is playing in Oklahoma City too much of an advantage for the Sooners?  Maybe it's time to give another venue a chance!  Read more.

 

 

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