AUBURN, Ala. – No. 10 seeded Oklahoma (56-9) is returning to the Women's College World Series to defend its national championship after a 5-2 win over No. 7 Auburn (49-12) Saturday at Jane B. Moore Field.
OU is heading to the WCWS for the 11th time in program history and sixth time in the last seven years. The Sooners will open play Thursday against the winner of the Super Regional between No. 2 Arizona and No. 15 Baylor, a series Arizona leads 1-0. A game time and TV designation are still to be determined. Tickets can be purchased at NCAA.com.
The win was Oklahoma's 28th in a row on the road, extending the team's record streak. OU finished the season 18-0 on the road this year, finishing undefeated for the first time in program history. The 18 road wins are also the most in one season for the Sooners.
In addition, this is just the second time in six tries that the Sooners have won Supers on the road since the format was introduced in 2005. OU has won four straight Super Regional games and 13 of their last 16 since 2011.
Junior Nicole Pendley drove in four of OU's five runs as she went 2-3 with a home run in the second inning. On the weekend, she was 3-7 (.429) and accounted for five of OU's eight runs batted in. Like Pendley, sophomore Sydney Romero was also 2-3 as she doubled and scored a run in the win. Romero leads the team with 22 multi-hit games this season.
Junior Paige Lowary picked up the win in relief, throwing the final 4.2 innings while striking out five. She improved to 15-3 this season and continued her strong run of relief performances. Six of her wins this year have been in a relief effort and she's allowed just six earned runs in 56.0 innings as a reliever, good for a 0.75 ERA.
In a scoreless second, Romero led off with a bunt single in front of home plate with fellow sophomore Fale Aviu to follow. The hit-and-run was called for Romero and the move paid off as Aviu hit a grounder to first baseman Kendall Veach, who threw to second but it was not in time to get Romero. That left two on for junior Nicole Pendley, who crushed a 2-2 offering over the fences in right field to put OU up 3-0.
Auburn fought back in the top of the third when Casey McCrackin launched a one-out homer to left field, cutting the lead to 3-1. The Tigers looked to do more damage when Victoria Draper reached on a bunt single and took second on a wild pitch. OU starter Mariah Lopez got to a full count on Kasey Cooper before the Sooners went to the bullpen to call on Lowary.
On the first pitch from Lowary, Cooper hit a deep fly to left field but senior Macey Hatfield made a leaping catch on the warning track to save extra bases and limit the damage. A lineout to right field ended the top of the third, keeping OU on top 3-1.
Two innings later, Auburn cut into the lead further thanks to a defensive miscue from the Sooners.
With two outs, Victoria Draper bunted back to Lowary, but Lowary's throw was errant to first base and Draper was able to move up to second base. The free out came back to haunt OU when Cooper lined a single into left field, allowing Draper to come home and close the Oklahoma lead to 3-2. Cooper took second on the throw home, but she was stranded there when Lowary struck out Carlee Wallace to end the inning.
Clinging to a one-run lead, the Sooners picked up two big insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth to give themselves some breathing room heading to the seventh.
Sophomore Shay Knighten led off the inning by sending a drive to left-center gap. Draper appeared to be in position to make the catch, but she collided slightly with left fielder Morgan Podany and the ball dropped to give Knighten a double. After a flyout from Romero advanced Knighten 60 feet to third base, Aviu reached safely on a fielder's choice, putting runners on the corners with one out.
Sophomore Raegan Rogers entered as a pinch runner and stole second, putting two in scoring position for Pendley. Batting in another pressure situation, Pendley delivered once again as she sent a single back up the middle, plating Knighten to give OU a 4-2 lead. With runners on the corners again, Pendley broke for second on a steal attempt and the throw down from Wallace was misplayed, allowing Rogers to score the team's fifth run.
Auburn's last chance came in the top of the seventh, but the Tigers could only muster a leadoff single before a strikeout, flyout and groundout ended the contest and sent the Sooners to the WCWS.