Oklahoma guns for fourth straight NCAA softball title

The Oklahoma Sooners will face a loaded field in the Women's College World Series as it chases a fourth straight softball title.

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May 30, 2024 - 1:08 PM

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is chasing history again.

The Sooners head into the Women’s College World Series with the opportunity to win an unprecedented fourth straight national title. They opened double-elimination bracket play Thursday against No. 10 seed Duke.

Last year’s team dominated to become the first team since UCLA from 1988 to 1990 to win three straight titles. But right after the win, star pitcher Jordy Bahl transferred to Nebraska, leaving a giant hole. Oklahoma added Oklahoma State pitcher Kelly Maxwell from the transfer portal, and the Sooners started the season favored to win another championship.

They felt the weight of high expectations.

“The past three years, it’s been a blessing,” Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen said. “But living up there — it’s really hard to get there, but living up there I would say is even harder.”

It hasn’t gone as smoothly as some years. Texas won the Big 12 regular-season title and Oklahoma entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seed. The Sooners had to get through a tough Florida State team in super regionals to qualify for the World Series.

The Sooners made it through, largely due to a strong senior class that Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso calls the best ever.

Hansen, Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Rylie Boone and Nicole May have been on all three championship teams. Alyssa Brito joins Jennings as National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-America selections. Maxwell has a 20-2 record. Transfer pitcher Karlie Keeney has been strong when called upon and Alynah Torres and Riley Ludlam have been steady at the plate.

“We’re not here to prove (to) anybody anything,” Gasso said. “We’re going to do the best we can to win it as a team and not to prove to the world there’s no doubt we are the best. We’ve got to earn this.”

In other matchups on Thursday, No. 1 Texas faces No. 8 Stanford, No. 6 UCLA faces No. 14 Alabama and No. 4 Florida plays No. 5 Oklahoma State.

ACHIEVING FIRSTS

The NFCA and Duke Sports Information believe Duke coach Marissa Young is the first Black coach to reach the Women’s College World Series.

“It means a lot,” Young said. “I didn’t have that as something to see growing up. Obviously in taking the job here at Duke, I understood that I had an opportunity to do something that’s never been done.”

Black coaches are rare in softball. According to the NCAA’s demographics database, there were just 19 Black head coaches among the nation’s 297 Division I schools in 2023.

Young also has led the Blue Devils to their first World Series. Veteran UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, an Asian American, said she is a fan of Young and said the achievement by a fellow woman of color should be celebrated.

“She’s a quality coach, but a better person,” she said. “I’m excited that she’s been able to build such a strong program and get to this stage so quickly. Says a lot.”

PAC-12 LEGACY

UCLA and Stanford are the final Pac-12 teams to make the World Series.

The league is breaking apart, with UCLA heading to the Big Ten and Stanford to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Current members of the conference have dominated the sport for most of its existence. UCLA has won 12 World Series titles and Arizona has won eight. Arizona State won in 2008 and 2011, Washington won in 2009 and has three runner-up finishes and California was runner-up in 2003 and 2004. Oregon has been a national power for the past decade and Oregon State qualified for the World Series in 2022.

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