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Oklahoma is going for its fourth straight NCAA softball title

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is chasing history again.

The Sooners enter the Women’s College World Series with a chance to win an unprecedented fourth straight national title. They opened double-elimination bracket play against No. 10 seed Duke on Thursday.

Last year’s team dominated, becoming the first team since UCLA from 1988 to 1990 to win three straight titles. But immediately after the win, star pitcher Jordy Bahl moved to Nebraska, leaving a huge hole. Oklahoma added Oklahoma State pitcher Kelly Maxwell from the transfer portal, and the Sooners entered the season favored to win another championship.

They felt the weight of high expectations.

“The last three years it’s been a blessing,” Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen said. “But living up there – it’s very hard to get up there, but living up there I think is even harder.”

Things haven’t been as smooth as they have been for a number of years. Texas won the Big 12 regular season title and Oklahoma entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed. The Sooners had to power through a strong Florida State team in super regionals to qualify for the World Series.

The Sooners pulled through, thanks in large part to a strong senior class that Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso calls the best ever.

Hansen, Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Rylie Boone and Nicole May have been on all three championship teams. Alyssa Brito joins Jennings as National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-America selections. Maxwell has a record of 20-2. Transfer pitcher Karlie Keeney was strong when called upon and Alynah Torres and Riley Ludlam were steady at the plate.

“We’re not here to prove anything to anyone,” Gasso said. “We are going to do our best to win as a team and not to prove to the world that there is no doubt that we are the best. We have to earn this.”

In other games on Thursday, No. 1 Texas faces No. 8 Stanford, No. 6 UCLA faces No. 14 Alabama and No. 4 Florida plays No. 5 Oklahoma State.

REACH FIRST

The NFCA and Duke Sports Information believe Duke coach Marissa Young is the first Black coach to reach the Women’s College World Series.

“It means a lot,” Young said. “I didn’t have that as something to see growing up. By taking the job here at Duke, I clearly understood that I had the opportunity to do something that has never been done before.

Black coaches are rare in softball. There were only 19 Black head coaches among the nation’s 297 Division I schools in 2023, according to the NCAA’s demographic database.

Young also led the Blue Devils to their first World Series. Veteran UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, an Asian-American, said she is a fan of Young and said the achievement of a fellow woman of color should be celebrated.

“She is a quality coach, but a better person,” she said. “I am pleased that she has been able to build such a strong program and reach this stage so quickly. Says a lot.”

PAC-12 EXPERIENCE

UCLA and Stanford are the last Pac-12 teams to reach the World Series.

The league falls apart, with UCLA headed to the Big Ten and Stanford to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The conference’s current members have dominated the sport for most of its existence. UCLA has won 12 World Series titles and Arizona has won eight. Arizona State won in 2008 and 2011, Washington won in 2009 and finished second three times, and California was second in 2003 and 2004. Oregon has been a national power over the past decade, with Oregon State qualifying for the World Series in 2022.

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