OKLAHOMA City – The finals of the Women’s College World Series begin Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. This is a classic example of David vs. Goliath: The race for the best of three will face Texas, the first undefeated team to reach the championship series, against No. 1 Oklahoma, perhaps the most dominant team in the history of the sport.
The Souners (57-3) are defending their championships in search of their sixth title under coach Patti Gaso. The Dalghorns (47-20) are aiming to play a spoiler on their first trip to the championship. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the result here is necessarily obvious. The first of those three losses for Oklahoma? Yes, it was Texas. Facing the Sooners will be a huge challenge for the Longhorns (as it would be for any team). But they have proven that they can beat them once.
How amazing has this season been for Oklahoma?
He has the aforementioned record of 57-3. This is the fact that Oklahoma plays 40 games that triggered the running rule – the provision that ends the race when the team is eight or more behind after five innings – while no other program plays more than 20. And even less playing time after so many of their games were interrupted by the rule of mercy, Sooners still easy leads Division I in the result, both in raw numbers (553 runs) and in percentage statistics (9.2 runs per game). They top the charts in almost every offensive statistic, including OBP, where they boast a .473. (Yes, that’s right, they fall to the base almost half the time.)
Much of that success has come from NCAA Home Run Queen Jocelyn Alo, the best striker in the history of college softball, now a senior in a red shirt who plays at the top of his game. But it’s not just Hello. Every pitcher who decides to divorce her is confronted by Tiare Jennings – a striker who is not much less scary. Any pitcher who decided to walk her gets Grace Lions, which, you guessed it, is a similar force on the plate. All three are in the top 10 in the country in terms of drilling rate: Hello is number 1 with 1,189 (1,189 SLG!), Jennings is number 6 at .914 and Lions is number 8 at .876. The trio creates a special kind of nightmare for the opposing teams. But there are threats up and down in this lineup: Hello is particularly furious, and Jennings and Lyons are a little behind, but even the lowest part of the order here can be a shock. A team does not make an average of 9.2 runs per game without contributing from everyone.
If Oklahoma’s success came only from her attack, the team could still rightly be considered the best in history. But his direction is also phenomenal. Sooners led Division I with 0.97 ERA. (No other team has had an ERA below 1.00.) This is driven by two players who are new to the roster this year: Hope Troutwine (0.58 ERA), the senior armor that passed from North Texas, and Jordi Ball (1.02 ERA) ), who was recently named freshman of the year. This means that the most explosive bats in the sport are combined with the best running prevention in the country.
In other words, if you were impressed with last year’s dominant champion team from Oklahoma – this one is even better.
And how unlikely is running to Texas?
Exceptional. Scroll to February. The Longhorns had their first lasting taste of intense competition this season at Clearwater Elite Invitational – and lost every game they played. Texas overtook № 5 Florida, № 25 Auburn, U 3 UCLA, № 24 in Central Florida and Notre Dame. A trip to the WCWS – not to mention the championship – would have sounded almost impossible then. Although the season improved from there, it was always uneven, with flashes of brilliance.
But Texas took a step at just the right moment. (Lack of) Longhorns means they were on their way to regional and superregional. Still, they continued on their way straight to Oklahoma City. Everything fell into place: what was an average defense in the regular season is now played almost without mistakes. Their only loss at WCWS so far is from (surprise!) Oklahoma. Their success against everyone else is largely due to the harsh performances of Hailey Dolcini, the blows from Courtney Day and the timely blows from senior star Jana Jefferson.
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It is unlikely that any unplaced team will reach the championship series. (There’s a reason it’s never been done before!) That these Longhorns, after their uneven start to the season, is amazing. They know they shouldn’t be here. But it’s good for them – all that matters is that they are here now.
“It’s just going out there and playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Jefferson said Tuesday, “and knowing that no one really expected us to be here or thought we deserved to be here.”
How did Texas beat Oklahoma for the first time?
Oklahoma was undefeated when they visited Texas for a three-game streak in April. The Sooners started their usual business: they ruled out the Longhorns in the first game and ruled them in the second. And then, despite everything, they lost in the third.
Much of this came from Dolcini. It was one of her best performances of the year: she kept the Sooners up to two goals and two runs, no walks, in a 4-2 victory for Longhorns. Combine Dolcini’s exit with the fact that Texas managed to find the result and hit first – Oklahoma very, very, a lot he rarely lets that happen – and that was enough to win.
Can this happen again? Perhaps. But the return of the championship at home requires two victories in the final series. So it can happen twice? This is a much bigger question.
“Obviously, our highest standard at the time was winning against Oklahoma. “It all came together and we started to believe and we started playing well,” Texas coach Mike White said Tuesday. “Of course, it’s hard to keep saying that all the time, but we know that’s the standard we can reach.”
As for how Sooners see it? Yes, they missed that one game, but they are 3-1 this year against Texas. They see more to focus on 3 from 1.
“There are no surprises here,” Gasso said. “I think both teams are working to get on board quickly, to set the tone quickly, but I like the idea that we have this experience and we’ve been here and we’ve done it before.”
More WCWS coverage:
• “It’s so far”: ASU and the rich history of WCWS before Title IX
• Everything you need to know before the Women’s College World Series
• The new WCWS format provides a strong final to the tournament