Sooners might not have to leave Oklahoma if they win the Regional they host, and then the Super Regional they would host, before the short ride to Oklahoma City
By Arnie Leshin
It’s a long ride to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College Softball World Series, but not for the Sooners.
Only a short drive from their campus in Norman, it is where they won the last two national championships. It’s where they have claimed it four times. For Oklahoma State and Tulsa, it’s just another ballpark in their state, but fpr the University of Oklahoma, it’s known as home, sweet home.
It wasn’t easy getting there last year. The Sooners were almost eliminated twice in the Regional played in Norman, but bounced back as the 10thseed, won the Super Regional at Auburn, and in the 8-team World Series, defeated Florida twice to repeat.
It was state opponent Tulsa and returning hurler, Emily Watson, that almost sprung the upset, leading twice in the deciding game before the Sooners and their fan support carried them to victory in the last of the seventh. Then they got to Auburn and swept two.
Now they are the No. 4 seed behind Oregon, Florida and UCLA, They are 50-3, had a pair of long win streaks snapped, and one of the setbacks came surprisingly against Boston University at a neutral site in New Mexico.
It came a week after most of the Sooners were sick with flu-like symptoms, and if you check the Regional brackets, guess who they play in their first game. That’s right, the Terriers. And the other bracket match-up has Tulsa, yes Tulsa, taking on Missouri.
Tulsa is 32-23 and Missouri is 28-27. But the Tigers made the field thanks to They will find former Mo players Paige Lowary and Parker Conrad now in the Oklahoma dugout.
But as comfortable as home is, the Sooners’ bracket oozes intrigue. In fact, they are the only seed that will open their Regional against a team that has already defeated them this season. The game with BU was played at a neutral site in New Mexico, and it came after a week when most of the Oklahoma players were sick with flu-like symptoms.
This time, there is more on the line and in Sooner country it will be extra tough to defeat them again, The Terriers are 39-18.
Now Oklahoma can win its Regional and stay home to also host the Super Regional in the best-of-three format. Win these two and it becomes a short ride to the Hall of Fame Stadium in OKC. Not bad to know you might not even have to leave Oklahoma.
But nothing is a sure thing. The other losses were at Oregon and UCLA, which is why the Ducks (47-7) and Bruins (50-3) are seeded ahead of the Sooners, plus Oregon also went 14-5 versus the seeded teams.
That’s good news for the PAC 12, but the bad news is that since the tournament moved to its current format in 2005 with 16 national seeds and the addition of the Super Regional round, the top seed has won the title on only give five occasions, most recently when the Gators won their second championship in 2015.
The top seed isn’t even a guarantee of reaching Oklahoma City. Florida learned in 2016 and Alabama learned in 2010, both being ousted by walk-off home runs from Georgia and Hawaii. Oregon was also the No. 1 seed in 2014, and in five appearances, has yet to make it to the World Series.
But these Ducks are a complete team. They rank in the top 10 in ERA, fielding percentage, slugging percentage, and runs per game. Their pitching strength comes from Megan Kleist (20-5, 0.96 ERA) and Miranda Elish (20-1, 1.01 ERA).
They open in Eugene against Albany (32-14), and the other game sends BYU (35-20) against Drake (43-10).
Florida is home in Gainesville and meets up first with state opponent Bethune Cookman (31-24), while Ohio State (34-14) goes against South Florida (38-21) in a bracket with three Sunshine State teams.
Then there’s UCLA. The Bruins have won the most national titles, 11, with Oklahoma next, The opener for UCLA in Los Angeles is versus state opponent Sacramento State (31-18). In the other contest, it’s Cal-State Fullerton (32-23) versus Texas State (42-14), one of the better unseeded teams.
Spoilers? Anybody. These aren’t minor softball programs. This isn’t a minor run. There figures to be surprises all around the country.
The SEC has landed a dozen schools in the field. Between 1987 and 2011, the PAC 12 has placed 37 teams into the finals. But it hasn’t played in the finals since 2011. Now it will be counting on Oregon, UCLA and Washington.
Oregon looks strong, so do Florida, UCLA and Washington, but Oklahoma has the experience, and in Oklahoma City would have the bulk of the fan support. The Sooners sold out every home game.
They also returned all but one starter and a quality pitching staff headed by senior left-hander Paige Parker. She already has eight all-times wins in the World Series, the most of any thrower.
Oklahoma, though, wouldn’t be the first team to win three straight times. In
fact, this is the 30th anniversary of UCLA winning the first of three consecutive titles. But considering how much the post-season has changed, that 1988 NCAA tournament totaled only 20 teams, no Super Regional, and no best-of-three championship series.
Thus, Oklahoma is chasing something that is its own way without precedent.
You can catch all the action on ESPN channels. Softball is more popular than ever, and it should be a scramble to reach Oklahoma City.
Gone are the days of slow-pitch via the arc, and replaced by the fastball. It makes the game much faster and more exciting.