Hitting. Pitching. Defense.
The No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners did it all in a convincing 10-5 victory over the gritty but overmatched No. 14 Texas Longhorns on Thursday in Oklahoma City to win a second consecutive national championship and end the superlative run to the championship series by the Longhorns.
Oklahoma hit two three-run home runs, received solid pitching performances from Jordy Bahl, Nicole May, and Hope Trautwein, and center fielder Jayda Coleman made multiple huge plays, including robbing Texas designated player Courtney Day of a two-run home run in the first inning. Even designated player Jocelyn Alo got in on the defensive effort, making an appearance in left field in the seventh inning and tracking down a deep fly ball from Longhorns first baseman JJ Smith.
Texas continued to experience defensive issues in the first inning when second baseman made an error, but left-hander Estelle Czech was able to mix around the miscue, aided by striking out Alo on a full-count pitch. So while another error was hardly heartening for the Longhorns, avoiding an early deficit was a key entering the game.
Instead, it was Texas scoring in the bottom of the first. Against Bahl, second baseman Janae Jefferson and third baseman Mia Scott led off the inning with well-hit singles and center fielder Bella Dayton followed with a walk. Then the Horns notched two runs with sacrifice flies from by shortstop Alyssa Washington and catcher Mary Iakopo, both to the warning track.
A good swing by Day drove a ball to deep center field, but Coleman skied over the wall to deny Day of a two-run home run to limit the Texas lead to 2-0, still tied for the most runs Oklahoma has allowed in the first inning this season.
Oklahoma threatened again in the second inning with a single and a double to put runners on second and third with one out. This time, the defense came through as Smith fielded a chopper and chased down and tagged the runner leaving third. Czech did the rest, inducing a popup to shortstop for the third out.
In the fourth, the Sooners were able to tie thanks to more miscues. Right fielder Katie Cimusz wasn’t able to make a diving catch in foul territory, leading to a leadoff double to right-center field. A throwing error by Scott at third allowed the runner to score and the batter to advance to third, then score on a single up the middle.
Coleman made another sensational defensive play in the bottom of the frame, fielding a ball at the wall and throwing out Smith trying to stretch it into a double.
A two-out rally in the fifth gave the Sooners the lead as a single and a hit by pitch brought Oklahoma left fielder Alyssa Brito, who doubled down the left-field line. Catcher Kinzie Hansen hit her first home run since April on a curveball from Czech that caught too much of the plate for a three-run bomb to make it 6-2.
Relentless as ever, the Sooners added four more runs in the sixth inning against Hailey Dolcini, highlighted by a three-run home run off the bat of Oklahoma shortstop Grace Lyons.
The Longhorns weren’t able to mount a comeback beyond a three-run home run by Scott with two outs in the seventh inning — a sign of the extent to which this team never gave up — affording a bittersweet cap to the magical run to the WCWS Finals, becoming the first Texas team to do so and the first unseeded team to make it so far.
Displacing the Sooners as the top program in college softball wasn’t possible for head coach Mike White’s team this year. The offense didn’t have enough pop, the defense faltered in key situations, and the pitching couldn’t overcome the strength of the Oklahoma lineup.
What’s clear, however, is that White has his program headed in the right direction, so perhaps the Horns will take the next step in the coming years. For now, White and his players deserve credit for their toughness and resilience in winning six elimination games to earn a spot in the bright lights of USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium for the WCWS Finals.