OKLAHOMA CITY — The Women’s College World Series finals kick off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. It’s a classic example of David vs. Goliath: The best-of-three contest will pit Texas, the first unseeded team ever to make it to the championship series, against No. 1 Oklahoma, perhaps the most dominant team in the history of the sport.
The Sooners (57–3) are defending champs in search of their sixth title under coach Patty Gasso. The Longhorns (47–20) are looking to play spoiler in their first-ever trip to the championship. But don’t be fooled into thinking the outcome here is necessarily obvious. The first of those three losses for Oklahoma? Yep—it was Texas. To face off against the Sooners will be an enormous challenge for the Longhorns (as would be the case for any team). But they’ve proven they can beat them once.
Just How Incredible of a Season Has This Been for Oklahoma?
There’s the aforementioned 57–3 record. There’s the fact that Oklahoma played 40 games that triggered the run rule—the provision that ends a contest when a team is up by eight or more after five innings—while no other program played more than 20. And even with less playing time after so many of their games were cut short via mercy rule, the Sooners still easily led Division I in scoring, both in raw numbers (553 runs) and in rate stats (9.2 runs per game). They top the leaderboard in just about every offensive stat, including OBP, where they boast a .473. (Yes, that is correct, they get on base almost half of the time.)
A large part of that success comes from NCAA home run queen Jocelyn Alo—the best hitter in the history of college softball, now a redshirt senior, playing at the top of her game. But it’s not just Alo. Any pitcher who decides to walk her is faced with Tiare Jennings—a hitter who isn’t much less fearsome. Any pitcher who decides to walk her gets Grace Lyons, who is, you guessed it, a similar force at the plate. All three are in the top 10 in the nation for slugging percentage: Alo is No. 1 at 1.189 (1.189 SLG!), Jennings is No. 6 at .914 and Lyons is No. 8 at .876. The trio make for a special kind of nightmare for opposing teams. But there are threats up and down this lineup: Alo is particularly fierce, and Jennings and Lyons are only just behind, but even the bottom of the order here can pack a punch. A team doesn’t average 9.2 runs per game without contributions from everyone.
If Oklahoma’s success came only from its offense, the team still might rightfully be considered the best in history. But its pitching is phenomenal, too. The Sooners led Division I with a 0.97 ERA. (No other team had an ERA under 1.00.) That’s driven by two players who are new to the roster this year: Hope Trautwein (0.58 ERA), the redshirt senior who transferred from North Texas, and Jordy Bahl (1.02 ERA), who was recently named Freshman of the Year. That means the most explosive bats in the sport is paired with the best run prevention in the country.
In other words, if you were impressed by last year’s dominating championship team from Oklahoma—this one is even better.
And Just How Unlikely of a Run Has It Been for Texas?
Extremely. Rewind to February. The Longhorns had their first sustained taste of intense competition this season at the Clearwater Elite Invitational—and lost every game they played. Texas came up short against No. 5 Florida State, No. 25 Auburn, No. 3 UCLA, No. 24 Central Florida and Notre Dame. A trip to the WCWS—let alone to the championship—would have sounded all but impossible then. While the season got better from there, it was always uneven, with flashes of brilliance.
But Texas hit its stride at exactly the right time. The Longhorns’ (lack of) seeding means they were on the road for regionals and super regionals. Yet they kept rolling straight through to Oklahoma City. Everything has clicked into place: What was a middling defense during the regular season has now played almost error-free. Their only loss in the WCWS so far has been to (surprise!) Oklahoma. Their success against everyone else has come in large part from gritty pitching performances from Hailey Dolcini, slugging from Courtney Day and timely hitting from senior star Janae Jefferson.
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That any unseeded team would make it to the championship series is unlikely. (There’s a reason it’s never been done before!) That it’s these Longhorns, after their bumpy start to the season, is incredible. They know they’re not “supposed” to be here. But that’s just fine with them—all that matters is that they’re here now.
“It’s just going out there and playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Jefferson said on Tuesday, “and knowing that no one really expected us to be here or thought we deserved to be here.”
How Did Texas Beat Oklahoma the First Time?
Oklahoma was undefeated when it visited Texas for a three-game series in April. The Sooners opened it up with business as usual: They shut out the Longhorns in the first game and run-ruled them in the second. And then, against all odds, they lost in the third.
A huge part of that came from Dolcini. It was one of her best performances of the year: She held the Sooners to two hits and two runs, with no walks, in the 4–2 victory for the Longhorns. Combine Dolcini’s outing with the fact that Texas was able to open up the scoring and strike first—Oklahoma very, very, very rarely lets that happen—and it was enough for the win.
Could that happen again? It could. But bringing home the championship requires two wins in the final series. So could it happen twice? That’s a much bigger question.
“Obviously, our highest standard at one time was the win against Oklahoma. Everything came together, and we started to believe, and we started to play well,” Texas coach Mike White said on Tuesday. “Of course, it’s hard to repeat that all the time, but we know that’s the standard we can get to.”
As for how the Sooners see it? Yes, they dropped that one game, but they’re 3–1 this year against Texas. They see more to focus on in the 3 than the 1.
“There’s no surprises here,” Gasso said. “I think both teams are working to kind of get on the board quickly, set the tone quickly, but I like the idea that we have this experience and we’ve been here and done that before.”
More WCWS Coverage:
• ‘It’s Come So Far’: ASU and the Rich History of WCWS Before Title IX
• Everything to Know Ahead of Women’s College World Series
• New WCWS Format Tees Up a Strong Tournament Finish