‘Impossible’: Why Texas beating OU twice gives hope to college softball

‘Impossible’: Why Texas beating OU twice gives hope to college softball

Making the Women’s College World Series is a given for the Sooners, but winning the title seems less certain after last weekend.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 8, 2024, 2:00pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 8, 2024, 2:00pm CDT

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Oklahoma isn’t invincible.

Oh, in the minds of people around the college softball world, everyone knew that was the case. No program, no matter how many games it wins, no matter how many championships it claims, is unbeatable.

But in the hearts of college softball players, coaches and fans? 

It has become increasingly difficult over the past couple of years to really and truly believe the Sooners could really and truly be beaten when it matters most — in the Women’s College World Series. There, after all, a team must be beaten twice, either in the elimination portion of the tournament or in the championship series. And since the Sooners hadn’t lost a three-game series since 2011 and hadn’t lost back-to-back games since 2020, it was hard to fathom how they could be bounced from the WCWS.

This weekend changed that.

On Sunday, Texas beat OU 2-1, and with the win, the Longhorns not only won the weekend series but also beat the Sooners on back-to-back days.

“We probably did what most people thought was impossible, and that’s to beat Oklahoma two days in a row,” Texas coach Mike White told reporters in Austin after the game Sunday.

He chuckled.

“It’s big for our program.”

Big for all of college softball, actually.

As the regular season hits the stretch run — a month from now, conference tournaments will be in full swing — our Eight for OKC has changed. OU is still in the field, and until someone wrests the crown from their heads, the Sooners should still be considered the favorites to win it all. 

But this weekend’s series loss at Texas has given something powerful to the college softball world: belief.

For the past few seasons, OU winning the national title seemed a foregone conclusion. Even though that glosses over how hard the Sooners worked and how much they navigated to win three consecutive national titles, OU winning it all has become as much a part of the WCWS as rain delays and overflow crowds.

Now?

Teams all over the college softball world see an opening. It isn’t big, but it exists. It didn’t before this past weekend.

Mind you, the Sooners during their three-year run of national titles have always responded well to adversity. When they’ve suffered a rare loss, they’ve bounced back. When a winning streak has ended, they’ve started a new one.

But now, they must bounce back from a different kind of adversity.

They’re on a losing streak.

Only two games, but still. OU hasn’t had a losing streak of any length since February 2020.

“Are we broken? Are we shaken?” OU coach Patty Gasso told reporters Sunday in Austin. “Absolutely not.”

The Sooners might not be shaken, but their losses have shaken up the college softball world. Can someone dethrone OU? The chances are still slim, but they are no longer zero.

Player praise

No one is swinging a hotter bat than Caroline Wang.

The Oklahoma State catcher had an eye-popping weekend in a series sweep at Houston, going 7-for-9 with four home runs, two doubles and 10 runs batted in. She saved her best game for last, going 3-for-4 on Sunday with a homer and seven RBI.

OSU hadn’t had a seven-RBI performance in a game since February 2019.

Wang, who transferred from Liberty, now has 15 home runs this season. It’s the most ever in a single season by an OSU catcher, and the total is tied for sixth nationally this season.

While this past weekend was her best as a Cowgirl, Wang has been building for weeks. She had three RBI in the series at BYU three weekends ago, then delivered the big three-run blast that beat Texas on Saturday two weekends ago.

Look out for …

Oregon doesn’t have a stellar record — the Ducks are only 22-13 — but they are surging in Pac-12 play.

They have won four of five series in conference play and scored their most impressive Pac-12 series win over the weekend against Washington. After losing the opener 8-3, Oregon won the final two games of the series 9-8 and 6-4. 

The Huskies were ranked ninth in the nation.

That adds to Oregon’s other Pac-12 series wins against Cal, Utah and Arizona State. The only conference series the Ducks have lost came against UCLA.

They scored the series win Sunday against Huskies ace Ruby Meylan, who held the Ducks scoreless through four and two-thirds innings. But a two-out error started what ballooned into a six-run rally.

“We want to win the Pac,” former OU pitching coach and current Oregon head coach Melyssa Lombardi told reporters in Eugene after the game. “In order to win the Pac, we have to beat teams like Washington and find a way to win the series.

“What I was really excited about was, if you looked at each game, we got better and better as the series went on, which to me is a really good sign.”

Props go to …

Tennessee won its weekend series against Georgia, a showdown of top-five teams, and the Vols did it without Kiki Milloy.

The superstar centerfielder was sidelined with an ankle injury, and while Tennessee coach Karen Weekly told reporters in Knoxville on Sunday that they were optimistic Milloy would return this week, that didn’t help the Vols against the Bulldogs.

But still, Tennessee won 5-1 on Friday and 3-1 on Sunday.

Georgia’s lone win in the series was 3-2 on Saturday.

How’d the Vols do it?

Great pitching, for starters. Karlyn Pickens got the complete-game victory on Friday, then pitched the first five innings Sunday. Payton Gottshall relieved her and got the win.

And then the Vols had big hits when they needed them, which is usually Milloy’s job. McKenna Gibson went 3 for 4 on Friday with a homer and two RBI. Also driving in two runs — former Sooner Zaida Puni.

On Sunday, the big hit came from another former Sooner. Sophia Nugent hit a three-run homer that was all the offense that Tennessee needed.

Winning without Milloy could be a huge boost to the Vols.

Getting her back will be, too. 

Eight for OKC

Without further ado, here are the eight teams most likely to make the Women’s College World Series field. Remember, these aren’t rankings but rather the teams most likely to make it to Oklahoma City.

1. OU (35-3): Yes, the Sooners have shown themselves to be vulnerable to falling short of another national title. But when it comes to being in OKC for the WCWS? No program in the past decade or so has won more in the postseason than OU. The Sooners know how to win in May. Know how to survive regionals and super regionals. Know how to get to OKC. Pair a top-notch team with that experience, and the Sooners still have the best chance of making the WCWS field.

2. OSU (33-6): Another supremely talented team with lots of postseason success over the past few years. Only the Cowgirls and Sooners have made the past four WCWS fields. And seeing as how this OSU team has a series win against Texas and a series sweep against Houston, which won a game against Texas, OSU ranks high in the likelihood it will get back to OKC.

3. Texas (31-6): Had the Longhorns not been shut out twice by OSU ace Lexi Kilfoyl, they’d be No. 1. But she did shut them out. Still, Texas is a great squad that did something no other team has done since 2019, beating OU on back-to-back days. Texas will be difficult to keep out of the WCWS.

4. Duke (33-3): The new No. 1 team in Softball America’s top 25 poll. Claire Davidson is hitting .459 and leading an offense that ranks in the top 10 nationally with a .343 batting average. The Blue Devils don’t hit for a ton of power, but among teams hitting over .340, the only team to strike out less is OU. Jala Wright has become a legit ace, too, going 12-0 with a 1.16 ERA. If Duke wins or sweeps its upcoming series at Clemson, look out. The Blue Devils could push even higher.

5. Tennessee (30-6): The Vols showed their depth by winning their series against Georgia without superstar Kiki Milloy. Everyone already knew Tennessee had great pitching with Karlyn Pickens and Payton Gottshall, but finding enough offense without Milloy to beat the Bulldogs twice? The Tennessee offense hasn’t been a world-beater with her — it ranks 60th nationally with a .301 batting average — so what it did this weekend was a big step forward.

6. Stanford (31-6): Two words: NiJaree Canady. The Stanford ace is a force of nature. She’s got a nation’s-best ERA of 0.48 and a Power Five-best 185 strikeouts. She’s thrown a lot of innings already (117.1; Kelly Maxwell, for comparison’s sake, has thrown only 73.1), and Canady will have to throw a lot in the postseason. But if she can keep up this level of dominance, Stanford will be nearly impossible to keep out of the WCWS.

7. LSU (31-5): Two weeks ago, the Tigers were sliding having lost four of five. But they have rebounded, winning six of their last seven through Sunday. That included a series sweep against a surging Texas A&M team. 

8. Georgia (31-8): Georgia is going through what LSU was going through a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs have cooled, winning only four of their last eight games and losing consecutive SEC series to Arkansas and Tennessee. Still, Georgia has one of the toughest schedules in the country, ranking fourth in the strength of schedule, and all of their losses have come against teams in the top 25 of the RPI.

First out

Florida (33-6): The Gators have a rubber game Monday night against LSU. Beat the Tigers, and the Gators are likely to vault themselves into the next Eight for OKC rankings. 

Others in consideration

Texas A&M (31-8)

Washington (26-7)

Missouri (30-9)

UCLA (22-9)

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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