By Arnie Leshin
For two days, the skies have emptied on Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
On Saturday morning, the sun was shining, every thing was going as scheduled and from the loser’s bracket arrived top-seeded Oklahoma to blank Georgia, 8-0, in round one of the needed-to-win survival of four wins.
Not long after, the Sooners went next against defending champion, 2nd-seeded UCLA in the double-elimination, but the skies darkened, the rain began dropping, and after an approximate 2-hour delay, the tarpaline was removed, and after falling behind 3-0 after two innings, regrouped, changed starting pitchers, Oklahoma responded with 10 unanswered runs.
The outfield was drenched, the infield was soft, but it didn’t matter, for after replacing freshman right hander starter Nicole May with senior southpaw Giselle Juarez, the Sooners scored twice in the bottom of the third, twice in the fourth, once in the fifth, and followed with five in the six. And after Juarez set the frustrated Bruins down in order in the sixth, the run-rule was applied and Oklahoma (52-3) was still in business and UCLA (45-7) was going home.
The next stop for the Sooners was Sunday when they had to win twice over unseeded, 2-0 James Madison to remain in play.
But when their game with the Bruins ended, the rain came down again in droves, and so Florida State and Arizona had to hang out in their locker rooms until the nasty weather faded. An hour and a half later, this other loser’s bracket survival contest was played and after the Seminoles fell behind 3-0 in the third, up came FSU senior Dani Morgan to clout a 3-run home run over the fence in left field.
But in the top of the eighth, the Wildcats pushed across a run to retake the lead at 4-3. Again the Seminoles had an answer. They tied it again on a walk, a hit-batter, and with one down, sophomore Maegan Tomlinson came through with an RBI single up the middle to score Johni Kerr.
Tomlinson then stole second base and sped to third on a passed ball. And up came senior Anna Shelnutt to send a fly ball to left field and Tomlinson beat the throw home for the 5-4 win.
Arizona (44-15) went home and FSU now had to also deliver versus 5th-seeded Oklahoma State, and it did, breaking a 2-2 deadlock with three runs in the sixth to come away with a 5-2 triumph to again remain in the hunt and send the 46-11 Cowboys packing.
Now it’s Sunday and the skies burst in the early morning, thus the Dukes-Sooners delay. James Madison (40-2), which edged Oklahoma, 4-3, in the World Series opener with its only starting pitcher Odicci Alexander in the circle, fell behind 1-0 after one and 2-0 after two, but the Dukes forced a 3-3 tie in the last of the fifth on a shot over the left-center field by senior Kate Gordon with two aboard.
But Oklahoma, with freshman righty Nicole May in relief of starter Shannon Stile in the fourth, did what Juarez did, striking out the final batter in that frame and fanned five more while walking none and allowing only one hit. Three times she struck out the final hitter.
With this, up came the Sooners in the seventh and head coach Patty Gasso, in her 27th season, sent up freshman speedster Raylie Boone to lead off and try to get on. And she did, laying down a quick bunt and at first before the ball was even picked up. Lead-off batter, fellow freshman Tiari Jennings then drove the ball to the fence in right. Boone scored without a throw and Jennings dashed to third with a triple.
Next came the topping on this victory as Kenzee Hanson, the catcher who made two unbelievable pop up grabs in foul territory, and she lined a 1-0 pitch from Alexander over the fence in deep center field. That did it, a 6-3 success as May set the side down in order and again struck out the final hitter. Also a factor was spark plug freshman Jayda Coleman making a super forward diving catch for Oklahoma.
Otherwise, it was three errors by each team on the rather sloppy field, but only the score mattered.
Now the Sooners and Dukes were scheduled to play again later with the winner going on to the semifinals. That was supposed to follow the FSU-Alabama game, with the Seminoles also needing to win twice. Well, at 7:30, FSU did just that, snapping the 2-0 Crimson’s 21-game win streak with a classic 2-0 zip.
Florida State scored once in the fourth and again in the sixth. Morgan batted in the first run on a single past first, and the other came on junior Sydney Sherrill’s slow bouncer to short that scored the runner on third base with two down.
Seminoles junior Kathryn Sandercock came on in relief of starting senior
Caylan Arnold in the fifth frame, and was again in charge as she hurled in each game, striking out three, walking none, and allowing only one hit. Alabama, which didn’t pitch Montana Fouts, who threw a perfect game against UCLA, saved her for Monday when the two games scheduled for Sunday was switched to Monday.
Now the best-of-three will begin instead on Tuesday if the weather cooperates. It will be Oklahoma-James Madison in the 4 p.m. EST opener and Florida State-Alabama in the closer. Yes, the Dukes and Crimson Tide needed only one more win to advance, but the Sooners and Seminoles had other ideas.
And with all the unfavorable weather and long delays, the day did bring a turnout announced at 12,600.