Defending NCAA Division I softball champion Oklahoma hits the road to sweep Auburn and return to the World Series in Oklahoma City
Also in the Elite Eight are Florida, UCLA, Oregon, with four remaining spots to be decided Sunday
By Arnie Leshin
It was getting late, they were already lining up the field for the Super Regionals, and defending NCAA Division I softball champion Oklahoma, on the brink of elimination, with one senior on the roster, was maybe the team to beat.
For there they were. The Sooners had lost an unexpected game one of the region they hosted in Norman to North Dakota State, and found themselves in the unfamiliar loser’s bracket. One more setback and there will be a new champion.
But they shrugged it off and took care of business in championship style.
They have now won six in a row after sweeping Auburn on the road to advance right back to the World Series in nearby Oklahoma City. In game one on Friday, it was 3-0, and Saturday, it was 5-2.
And “next” year becomes “this year”. A team that can come back like that with a win-or-else answer, can maybe win another title, a fourth.
Now go figure why Oklahoma (56-9) was handed the 10th seed. It has won more games than any other team in the 64-school field, once again won the Big 12 regular-season and tournament, and this latest triumph extended its win streak on the road to 27 games. By winning the opener, it was also its seventh straight first-game triumph.
The last time these teams met was in Mexico back in March and the Tigers won that one, 3-2. And before that, it was in last year’s World Series finals where the Sooners took two-of-three for their third national title.
Auburn has never won one, and fell short of getting to the Elite Eight again. As the 7th seed, it swept through its region at home, while Oklahoma was just trying to get to the next round, as it did in turning back Arkansas, North Dakota State, and Tulsa twice. Then the Sooners flew to see Auburn again.
There, they sent junior left-hander Paige Parker to the circle in game one to strike out 12 and shut the Tigers down on two hits. Her team scored twice each in the 5th and 6th innings. Saturday, it took a 3-0 lead on junior Nicole Pendley’s second-inning line drive home run into the right field seats.
They dropped in and left the Tigers with only two runs in two games. The Sooners also had more hits, 10-6, and now the lone senior, left fielder Macey Hatfield, gets one to play one more time in Oklahoma City.
Auburn, which wound up at 48-10, cut the deficit to 3-1 in the fifth, to 3-2 in the sixth, but Oklahoma answered back with two of its own in the bottom of the sixth. And that’s how it ended behind the stellar relief stint from junior southpaw Paige Lowry.
The Sooners will open against either 2nd seeded Arizona or 10th seeded Big 12 rival Baylor, but will have to watch Sunday’s deciding game on TV after the Bears 46-13) won 6-4 Saturday to even things at a game each. On Friday, the Wildcats (52-8) triumphed 2-1.
So Oklahoma, happy and relieved, will be back home and tuning in to know its next opponent. It will hit the road again for the last stop, but it will be like a home series to be playing in Oklahoma City.
LSU, as it did in its own region, bounced back after losing game one at 4th seeded FSU on Friday. On Saturday, the 13th seeded Bayou Tigers scored the game’s lone run in the opening frame and received a one-hit pitching gem to bring the deciding game on Sunday.
UCLA, Florida and Oregon also made into the championship round with tough tasks against Mississippi, Alabama and Baylor.
The top-seeded Gators (54-7) won the deciding third game Saturday after the 16th seeded Blue Tide took a 3-0 game one victory on Thursday and host Florida evened the series by winning 2-0 on Friday. And on Saturday, it was yet another low-scoring nip-and-tuck contest that the Gators held on to win, 2-1.
UCLA (47-13) had to come from behind in the game one it hosted, tying it in the 6th and 7th innings, and winning 8-7 in 10. Saturday, it happened again as Ole Miss led 2-0 going into the sixth. The Bruins tied it in the top of the inning, and won it in the seventh versus a game, never-quit 12th seeded Mississippi team.
UCLA will open against the LSU-FSU winner. Florida versus the Texas A & M at Tennessee winner. These teams are now tied a game apiece after the Aggies won 6-5 on Saturday following the Volunteers’ 4-1 win on Friday.
Oregon, the 3rd seed, had won game one, but the Ducks (52-6) had to rally to avoid a deciding game on Sunday. They allowed Kentucky a first-inning run, and it increased when the Wildcats scored two more in the fifth and twice more in the sixth.
But in their half of the sixth, the Ducks brought the home crowd into play with four-straight hits and cut the gap to 5-3. In the seventh, Oregon continued to battle back. It loaded the bases with one out, tied things on a two-run double, and won it with a base hit on a 3-2 count with two down.
In the State of Washington, the 6th seeded Huskers (47-11) were up a game over 11th seeded Utah. But after the 11-7 win on Friday, the host team fell on Saturday, 9-8, to the Utes, and they will settle things Sunday.
It was 4-2 Washington when Utah (37-15) broke away for seven runs to take a 9-4 lead after three innings. But inning by inning, the Huskers kept creeping back in. It was 9-5, 9-6, 9-7, 9-8 until they ran out of innings.
The winner of that one would next play Oregon in the first round of the WS.
Meanwhile, there are four schools in and four more spots to fill.