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Defending NCAA Division I softball champion Oklahoma still in play

Defending NCAA Division I softball champion Oklahoma still in play after coming out of the loser’s bracket Sunday to force a deciding game in Norman Monday against state-rival Tulsa

Down 4-2 in last of 10th, Sooners quickly singled twice and homered twice to down the Golden Hurricanes

Arnie Leshin

By Arnie Leshin, Santa Fe Today | May 21, 2017

The Oklahoma softball team hasn’t conceded yet.

Coming out of the loser’s bracket and trailing 4-2 Sunday as it batted in the bottom of the 10th inning against state-rival Tulsa, the defending Division I national champions didn’t wait long to answer back and force a deciding region final Monday afternoon in Norman that is scheduled for a 1 o’clock start.

One day after host and 10th seeded Oklahoma Sooners had lost 3-2 to North Dakota State and dropped into the loser’s bracket, they needed to first defeat Arkansas, than the Bisons, and win two against the Golden Hurricanes, which won twice by one run over Arkansas and North Dakota State.

Facing right-hander Emily Watson, one of the better pitchers in the country, and winner of 30 games, Oklahoma (53-9) allowed two runs in the opening inning, tied it in the fifth, and then saw Tulsa (41-16) piece together a single, double and single to go up by two in the third extra inning.

With their home crowd nervously cheering, the Sooners responded quickly.

What followed was a first-pitch single to left field by lead-off batter Nicole Mendez, and a second-pitch home run clouted well over the fence by Caleigh Clifton in left tied the score, and the crowd erupted.

They had more to cheer about. Shay Knighten, who blasted a two-rum home run in the earlier 6-2 win over Arkansas, singled past the shortstop, and up came sophomore Sydney Romero to hit it where Clifton hit it, and the celebration began at home plate and in the stands.

It wasn’t long after Tulsa thought it would be celebrating after taking the lead in the top of the frame. But Oklahoma did not want to be only the second-ever defending champion to bow out in the region, especially at home, and just took care of business.

After eliminating the Razorbacks, it avenged the second loss to North Dakota State in the same region in 2009 by storming away to a 10-0 lead and ousting the Bisons, one of three schools in the field with a losing record, 10-2.

It did what it had to do, not an easy task, but now it gets to play for a berth in the Super Regionals at 7th seeded Auburn (49-10), which advanced by twice defeating California, 6-2 in 10 innings, and 5-0 on Sunday.

But unless the Sooners don’t defeat Tulsa again, an Oklahoma school will be in Alabama, at Auburn, but not them.

Game time is scheduled for 10 p.m. and Oklahoma will probably start Paige Parker again. She only lasted an inning and 2/3s versus Tulsa, and was relieved by Paige Lowery, who held the Golden Hurricanes in check until the 10th. It’s 100 percent certain that it again will be Watson in the circle for Tulsa.

Except for this contest and the Baton Rouge Region hosted by LSU, all of the other eight regions were decided for the best-of-three Supers. With 2-0 Louisiana-Lafayette (48-6) awaiting the winner of rained-out 13th seed LSU and McNeesse, who are in a in a scoreless tie, with heavy rains postponing Sunday’s game until Monday.

Top-seeded Florida (52-7) came back from a stunning 1-0 loss to Oklahoma State to turn back the Cowboys, 5-0, and move on against 16th seeded Alabama (45-16), which twice had a tough time getting past Minnesota, which had the best record in the country but was unseeded.

Second-seeded Arizona (51-7) now plays host to 16th seeded Baylor (45-12) after it defeated South Carolina, 7-0, and the Bears disposed of a quality James Madison team, 1-0.

Oregon (50-6) is the third seed and played two tough games with Wisconsin before getting to stay home again versus 14th seeded Kentucky (41-7), which topped Illinois. The fourth seed, FSU (54-6), knocked off Georgia, and will now host whoever comes out of the Baton Rouge region.

Fifth seed UCLA (45-13) wrapped up its region by turning back San Jose State, and will host 12th seeded Mississippi (43-18), which twice defeated North Carolina. Sixth seeded Washington (46-11) had a tough go with Michigan before moving on to play host to 11th seeded Utah (36-14), which twice won over state-rival BYU.

In Knoxville, 8th seeded Tennessee (47-10) will now take on 9th seeded Texas A & M (45-10) after stopping a pesky South Carolina Upstate team, while the Aggies defeated state-rival Texas.

Oklahoma is the 10th seed and has to go another day. Not its choice and not the way it expected, but the Sooners are still in the hunt for a fifth national title. And currently, so are 14 other schools.

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