Softball Season Ends in Championship Series

John Rohde
By John Rohde Contributor

OKLAHOMA CITY – One night after suffering a 16-3 loss in Game 1 of the championship series at the Women’s College World Series, the Oklahoma softball team pushed UCLA to its final at-bat on Tuesday night.

The top-ranked, top-seeded Sooners were one out away from forcing extra innings, but a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning scored the game-winning run in UCLA’s 5-4 title victory before a crowd of 8,373 at USA Hall of Fame Stadium.

“We had probably, as you know, one of the worst games (Monday) that we’ve ever played,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said afterward. “To come back the way that we did, I couldn’t be more proud of this group. They fought their tails off. We played an unbelievable, outstanding team. They are solid top to bottom in their lineup. They got a phenomenal pitcher on the mound. They’re very well-coached. It was tough.

“They were on a mission. We were on a mission. But what we did today, I’ll never forget.”

OU senior Shay Knighten, who two years ago hit a game-winning home run against Florida in the 17th inning in the championship series, drilled a two-out solo home run just over the wall in left-center with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to tie the score at 4.

Asked where it ranked in her career moments, an emotional Knighten said, “It ranks pretty high. This season has been very special. Me to go out that way was just really cool, being able to run around the bases. You just see the Sooner Nation, teammates, everyone there, so happy and so excited. It has to rank at the top.”

Standing in the third-base coaching box, a demonstrative Gasso was all smiles as Knighten passed her head coach on her way to home plate, where delirious teammates awaited her arrival.

“I know I got very animated,” Gasso said afterward, a smile once again creeping on her face. “I was fired up. I don't really show too much emotion, but I think I went off on that one.”

Unfortunately, their joy was short-lived as UCLA’s Kinsley Washington, who went 6 for 8 in the championship series, knocked in the title-clinching run with two outs and a runner at second base.

The throw home from OU leftfielder Falepolima Aviu was slightly up the third-base line. Pinch-runner Jacqui Prober dove and barely beat the tag from catcher Lynnsie Elam.

The sequence brought an end to the most successful senior class in OU softball history. The group won national titles their freshman and sophomore seasons, finished fourth as juniors and second as seniors.

“They were one hit away from potentially winning it again,” Gasso said. “This is the best senior class we’ve ever had. It’s very evident. Every single one of them here. Besides that, just the way they share their hearts. You hear them praising God, you might go, ‘Oh, geez. Really?’ It’s on their heart. It’s what they do. It’s what we do.”

Senior second baseman Caleigh Clifton said, “(Monday) was just a character game. If it proved anything about our character, how hard we fight, I mean, this was such a close game. That’s what we wanted for this next game. We did a great job of just flushing it, knowing we didn't have our best stuff yesterday, but we were going to bring it today, and we did.”

Senior third baseman Sydney Romero, a finalist for National Player of the Year, hit a solo shot in the third to get the Sooners on the board. Romero and junior Nicole Mendes both went 2 for 3 at the plate.

In every game at this year’s WCWS, the team that scored first went on to win. Tuesday completed that trend as UCLA took a 2-0 lead just four pitches into the game on a pair of solo home runs.

UCLA’s first four runs came on solo home runs. The Bruins also hit four homers in the Game 1 romp.

OU never led Tuesday, but tied the score in the fourth inning and again in the decisive seventh.

The Sooners (57-6), who rank third in all-time national titles behind UCLA and Arizona (eight), were looking for their fifth national championship. Instead, OU finished as national runner-up for the second time, matching 2012 when Alabama edged the Sooners by the same 5-4 score in the deciding game.

UCLA (56-5) has now won 12 national championships in softball, more than any other school.

Romero, Mendes and Jocelyn Alo were named to the all-tournament team.