NORMAN — This year’s Oklahoma softball team has been top-rated and top-seeded. Now the Sooners will try to prove they’re top-shelf.
OU advances to the 2022 Women’s College World Series next week in Oklahoma City, where it will have an opportunity to put the finishing touches on arguably the greatest season in Division I history.
Though there is no precise formula to determine the greatest collegiate softball team of all-time, this year’s Sooners (54-2) undeniably are still in the discussion.
OU clinched its 15th WCWS appearance with a 7-1 elimination victory over Central Florida (49-14) on a hot and windy Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Norman Super Regional before a sellout crowd of 1,704.
Five super senior Sooners have now played their final games on Marita Hynes Field, but their legacy and those of their teammates await at USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex on June 2-9/10.
Seeking their sixth national title overall and their fourth in the last six championships staged, the defending national champs will open against the Arizona State-Northwestern super regional winner.
The Sooners, who set an NCAA record for the best season start at 38-0, left little doubt they would earn a chance at their crowning achievement in OKC, outscoring their five postseason opponents 52-3.
“I feel like we’re on the uptick right now,” OU Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso said. “We’re moving upward throughout the top and bottom of our lineup.”
Oklahoma super senior Joselyn Alo homered in her penultimate plate appearance on her home field, giving her 29 home runs this season and an NCAA record 117 so far in her five-year career.
“It’s been the quickest five years,” Alo said. “It’s gone by in the blink of an eye and I’m sad I won’t get to play another game here again, but I wouldn’t want to go out any other way. Even if I didn’t go out with a home run (she walked in her final at-bat), I still went out with a dub (win) and that’s all that matters.”
Gasso substituted a pinch-runner for Alo once she reached first base after being walked in the top of the seventh to allow her a curtain call.
“It was a cool moment,” Gasso said.
Alo said, “I’m just thinking a lot of happy thoughts right now and I can’t even put it into words what I’m feeling. I’m nothing but grateful for this Sooner program.”
Senior All-American shortstop Grace Lyons, who has said she will return for her super senior season next year, hit back-to-back home runs in the third and fourth innings to give the Sooners a 5-0 lead.
“Coming into this game, we were thinking about how we can play loose and as fast as we could get a hot start,” Lyons said. “All of us, top to bottom, you could tell how free we were at the plate.”
OU’s lead would have been even greater at the time had it not stranded seven runners in the first three innings to lead just 2-0.
UCF starter Kama Woodall kept the Sooners in striking distance the first three innings, but when seldom-used freshman right-hander Kaitlyn Felton was inserted in the top of the fourth, the Sooners pounced behind Lyons’ second dinger.
“When we take out that pitcher (Woodall), we go on to the next one and it’s a new challenge,” explained Lyons, who finished 3 for 5 with four RBI. “And just being able to adapt to that is definitely a key to our success offensively.”
Jana Johns, yet another super senior, made it 6-0 with a solo shot to center field in the fifth inning. Alo’s swan song bomb was a solo shot in the sixth to make it 7-0.
At that point, the Sooners were on the cusp of completing their third straight postseason shutout, but UCF catcher Jada Cody nixed that with a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth that barely cleared the left fiield wall to set the final margin.
OU sophomore righthander Nicole May went the distance, scattering three hits, striking out four and walking two, to push her season record to 15-0 with a 0.99 earned run average.
May drew high praise from Gasso.
“Oh my gosh, she just loves big moments and she seems to thrive when the pressure’s really on,” Gasso said. “I was really proud of her. I won’t get into detail, but she made some big adjustments that really changed the game. Right in the middle of it when things were not completely out of reach. I was just proud of her getting better as the game went along.”
Oklahoma will play their first game of the 2022 Women’s College World Series on Thursday, June 2 at a time to be determined versus the winner of the Tempe Super Regional between eight-seed Arizona State and nine-seed Northwestern.
The Sooners seek their sixth national title in program history and look to become just the ninth team in NCAA history to go back-to-back. It would be the second time in program history OU has won consecutive titles.
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