Women's College World Series: Oklahoma wins softball championship after sweeping Florida
OKLAHOMA CITY — For the second straight year, the third time in the last five years and the fourth time overall, the Oklahoma Sooners are national champions.
No. 10 OU (61-9) defeated top-seed Florida (58-10) 5-4 Tuesday evening for a WCWS Championship Series sweep to claim the title.
With four crowns, only UCLA (11) and Arizona (8) have more championships than OU. Additionally, Oklahoma is just the fourth program to repeat as champions, joining UCLA (1984-85, '88-91 and '03-04), Arizona (1993-94, '96-97 and '06-07) and Florida (2014-15).
Four pitchers combined on the win as junior Paige Parker started but gave up three runs on four hits and three walks in 1.2 innings. Freshman Mariah Lopez entered in the second for her first appearance of the WCWS and ended up earning the win to finish 18-1 on the season. In a game-high 2.1 innings, Lopez struck out two and allowed one run on one hit.
The ball was then handed to fellow freshman Nicole Mendes. With just a third of an inning pitched in the postseason, Mendes got three outs in the fifth inning and allowed only one hit before giving way to junior Paige Lowary, who covered the sixth and seventh innings.
In earning her 11th save of the year, tied for the most in one season in NCAA history, Lowary pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. In the seventh, she got back-to-back strikeouts before fielding a chopper and throwing to first to get the final out and set off a dogpile in the pitcher's circle.
For the first time since 2010, the championship series saw teams score in four straight half-innings as the teams combined for nine runs over the first 2.5 stanzas.
Oklahoma wasted no time getting on the board as Mendes lined a leadoff home run to left field on the fourth pitch of her at-bat. It was her seventh home run of the year and her second leadoff shot, both of which came in the postseason.
The lead wouldn't last long, though, as Florida answered back in the top of the second with three runs.
Sophia Reynoso evened the game up at 1-1 when she led off the second with a solo home run to left in nearly the same spot as where Mendes' blast landed. Parker retired the next two batters, but Justine McLean extended the inning with a single to left field and reached second on a fielding error. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Aleshia Ocasio put the Gators in front with a single to right field, while the lead became 3-1 when Kayli Kvistad was hit by a pitch with the bases full.
The Sooners matched the Gators with a response of their own in the bottom of the frame.
With one out, senior Macey Hatfield stroked a single through the left side, while junior Lea Wodach followed with a walk and fellow junior Kelsey Arnold reached on an infield single to fill the bases. Two batters later, sophomore Caleigh Clifton worked a five-pitch walk to force in a run and trim the lead to 3-2. On the very next pitch, sophomore Shay Knighten laced a bases-clearing double to right center to put the Sooners ahead 5-3.
Knighten was named the WCWS' Most Outstanding Player after hitting .350 (7-for-20) with four runs scored, two doubles, a home run and eight runs batted in. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Lowary, Parker and Mendes.
Florida cut the lead to 5-4 in the top of the third on Chelsea Herndon's solo home run to center field. But that would be about it for the Gators' offense as they could only muster one single over the final four innings.