Oklahoma aiming for the hat-trick with familiar foe Florida State on the way

Oklahoma players celebrate as Jayda Coleman runs for home plate after hitting a home run against Stanford in the third inning of a Women's College World Series game on June 5, 2023 in Oklahoma City.  (AP Photo/Nate Billings)
Oklahoma players celebrate as Jayda Coleman runs home after hitting a home run against Stanford in the third inning of a Women’s College World Series game on June 5, 2023 in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

Oklahoma will play for a place in history when the first pitch of the 2023 Women’s College World Series Championship Series is thrown on Wednesday. He’ll do it against the foe he defeated in a win-win match 3 that started the bid for a hat-trick.

The Sooners, ranked No. 1 and on a 51-game Division I winning streak, are in contention for their third consecutive championship in the best-of-three series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET on ESPN ). They will face Florida State, the team they beat in Games 2 and 3 of the 2021 series to claim their first trophy of the current race. Only UCLA has won three consecutive Division I titles (1988-90).

Oklahoma (59-1) is the modern college softball powerhouse that has won the Bruins a record 12 Division I championships, the first of which was the inaugural competition and the last in 2019 against the Sooners. Arizona won five titles in the 1990s and three more in the 2000s to sit in second place with eight. They also previously held the winning streak record with 47 sets from 1996 to 1997.

The Wildcats’ dominance gave way to the Sooners, who won their first title in 2000 and added 13, 14 and 17 ahead of their current streak. A title this week would be No. 7 overall. They are overwhelming favorites with the best pitching staff, the most dominant lineup and a stellar defensive performance.

“We earn a lot. And it’s fabulous,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “But sometimes I think we’re so used to taking it for granted and that means a lot. It means a lot, getting to the championship game means a lot.

It took a two-out, two-run brace in the ninth inning from Tiare Jennings to put Oklahoma back in the title game. The effort secured OU a 4-2 victory over Stanford in the semi-finals, preserving their winning streak and avoiding a game-breaking winner-takes-all afterwards. Jennings, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, was 0-for-7 against the Cardinal heading into the game. But the Sooners are just plain good, from top of the lineup to bottom of the batting order and on the field.

“We could be down five, four, whatever,” Gasso said last week after the Sooners came from three to beat Clemson in extra innings to win the super regional. “We are not out of the game. And we believe it.

“Can we do that? I guess we can. They don’t doubt that.”

Tiare Jennings of Oklahoma hits a single against Tennessee during the Women's College World Series on June 3, 2023 in Oklahoma City.  (AP Photo/Nate Billings)
Tiare Jennings of Oklahoma hits a single against Tennessee during the Women’s College World Series on Saturday in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

Florida State (58-9), which lost to Oklahoma by one point in March, had no such showdown. The Seminoles beat their three WCWS opponents 16-2, including a mercy win over Oklahoma State in Game 1 on Friday. He broke an 0-5 skid in the WCWS’ opening matches, leading to a third championship appearance since 2018, when they won their first and so far only title. Oklahoma is in its ninth appearance and UCLA has a Division I-best 20 since winning the inaugural WCWS in 1982.

“We’ve been talking about being tough and tenacious and reliable and energetic all season and it comes at the right time,” Florida State head coach Lonni Alameda said.

The Seminoles had 22 hits in their three games and six home runs, including four against Tennessee in the semifinals. Their batting average of .306 throughout the season ranks 31st in the DI, passed by leader Oklahoma (.368). Their pitching team, led by senior Kathryn Sandercock, allowed seven hits with one strikeout in Washington, but combined to allow seven hits and strikeouts 11 in WCWS bracket’s first and last games.

“It’s the ultimate goal when you get here to have everything running on all cylinders,” Alameda said.

Oklahoma always seems to be firing on all cylinders, and has been for years. The Sooners’ only loss this season is to Baylor 4-3 at the Getterman Classic in Waco, Texas on Feb. 19. It was only their eighth loss in the last three years.

In 2019, the Sooners won 41 straight games before losing to Wisconsin in Game 3 of the NCAA Tournament. This is the longest winning streak in a single season.

From 2020-21, they have won 40 in a row since their last seven games of the 2020 season. The remainder of the schedule after March 7 has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They maintained the streak until April 2021 and won the championship. That streak also increased to 40 and bled in the 2021-22 season. The 38-0 run to start last season is the best record to start a season in DI history.

Jennings said the Sooners aren’t results-oriented, which Gasso reiterated. She hadn’t seen the success she wanted at the start of the box in that pitching duel against Stanford to earn a ticket to the final week. But when the junior second baseman backed off knowing an out would mean a win-win Game 3, she thought to herself “so what” about it and kept fighting. That same “so what, who cares” mentality has been part of Florida State’s repertoire throughout the playoff season.

So history won’t be easy for Oklahoma, who surely cares, with Florida State standing in the way.

Florida State pitcher Kathryn Sandercock throws a pitch against Tennessee during the Women's College World Series on June 5, 2023. (Brett Rojo/USA TODAY Sports)

Florida State pitcher Kathryn Sandercock throws a pitch against Tennessee during the Women’s College World Series on Monday. (Brett Rojo/USA TODAY Sports)

In the circle

Oklahoma’s pitching team leads ERA Division I at 0.98, significantly better than Central Arkansas (1.50), Stanford (1.53), and Florida State (1.59).

The Sooners relied on freshman right-hander Jordy Bahl (21-1), who was credited with all three WCWS wins. In 14 ⅔ innings, she has yet to give up a run. She relieved junior Nicole May in the sixth against Stanford and struck out six to help clinch the title berth.

May (18-0) ranks third in ERA in DI (0.91, 14 earned runs in 107 ⅔ innings pitched). Bahl ranks fifth (0.97 ERA, 19 runs in 137 ⅓ innings) and senior Alex Storako (17-0) ranks eighth (1.12, 16 in 99 ⅔).

Florida State turns to Sandercock (28-3), whose 1.05 ERA (28 ERAs in 186 innings) ranks sixth in the nation and wins fourth. But among the ERA’s top 25 pitchers, she has one of the largest margins between runs (46) and earned runs (28) allowed. Sandercock appeared in all three WCWS games with two wins, nine strikeouts, and one run allowed in 13 ⅔ innings.

Sandercock, the program’s all-time appearances leader, appeared in all three games of the 2021 Championship Series. She had a 1.97 ERA with four ERAs in 9 ⅔ innings as a junior.

Rookie Makenna Reid (12-0) has a 0.89 ERA (10 in 78 ⅓) which ranks second. Allison Royalty has 26 appearances with 10 starts and Ali DuBois has 23 with 14 starts.

Offensive Showcase

Florida State’s 5.3 points per game lead the tournament and are slightly ahead of Oklahoma’s 5.0 per game. Over the full season, FSU is averaging 6.1 (13th) against the OU National’s best of 8.2. That’s more than a point better than second-placed Arizona (6.9).

Florida State outfielder Kaley Mudge is one of the Women's College World Series players, leading her team into the championship series.  (AP Photo/Gary McCullough, File)

Florida State outfielder Kaley Mudge is one of the Women’s College World Series players, leading her team into the championship series. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough, File)

FSU junior Kaley Mudge has four RBIs, hitting .400 in the tournament and second Michaela Edenfield has three, hitting .375. Kalei Harding is tied atop DI with 22 doubles; Mudge has 18. Edenfield leads the team in RBI (56).

Oklahoma has three hitters in Jennings (.807 hit percentage), Alyssa Brito and Jayda Coleman (.814), who each have 17 homers. Jennings (65) and Brito (59) lead the team in RBI.

The last time

Oklahoma won, 5-4, March 14 in Norman, Oklahoma, on an RBI single by Jennings in the fourth inning.

The Sooners took an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single from right fielder Alynah Torres off Sandercock down the order. FSU pinch hitter Jahni Kerr responded with a home run in the third out of Storako. Designated hitter Haley Lee and Jennings each had solo shots for Oklahoma to go 3-1.

Designated hitter Katie Dack answered with a three-run homer in the fourth to give FSU its only lead of the game. Lee’s double on the midfield wall scored a point to equalize and Jennings hit hard ground in the middle to preserve the winning streak.

Sandercock went just two innings and allowed three hits and one earned run with no strikeouts. Reid allowed four hits and two runs with FSU’s only strikeout in ⅔ innings, DuBois allowed four hits and two runs in one inning, and Allison Royalty allowed two hits in 2 ⅓ innings.

Storako was credited with the victory. She allowed five hits and four runs in four innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Bahl earned the stoppage, allowing one hit in three innings and striking out four.

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