The last eight softball teams of the NCAA Tournament have arrived in Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series. Among them are the nation’s hottest team, the nation’s best pitching staff, the team that excels in elimination games and the defending national championships.
Action at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium begins Thursday.
The eight teams are divided into two double-elimination brackets. The winners of each bracket will meet in the best-of-three championship series starting Monday.
Here’s a primer of the big storylines heading into the event:
Sooners Looking To Repeat
Junior left-handed pitcher Paige Parker is back after leading the Sooners to last year’s national championship. Parker (23-5, 1.29 ERA, 243 strikeouts) pitched back-to-back complete-game shutouts to help Oklahoma get back to Oklahoma City. The Sooners lost their first game of the NCAA Tournament but battled back to win the regional on Parker’s shutout of Tulsa. She then pitched a shutout against Auburn — a team she beat twice in last year’s championship series — to start the super regional.
Junior lefty Paige Lowary (15-3, 1.61 ERA, eight saves) has also been solid in the circle while freshman Nicole Mendes is ranked ninth nationally with a .438 batting average. Mendes had a 21-game hitting streak snapped in the clinching win against Auburn.
Florida’s Dominant Pitching
Top-seeded Florida’s strength is in the circle. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Kelly Barnhill (24-3) leads the country with a 0.36 ERA. She also tops the country with 13.4 strikeouts and 2.74 hits allowed per seven innings and has 12 complete-game shutouts. Barnhill was named USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year on Tuesday.
Senior lefty Delanie Gourley (21-4) is just behind with a 0.67 ERA and has gone 53 1/3 innings without an earned run. She pitched 14 shutout innings in two elimination games she’s started this postseason.
Aleshia Ocasio (1.13 ERA) joins the dominate staff that leads the country with a 0.69 ERA.
With pitching staff that has allowed one run or fewer in 50 of 63 games, the Gators don’t have to score a lot of runs. Sophomore leadoff Amanda Lorenz, who is 10-of-19 during the NCAA Tournament, leads the Florida offense.
Backs Against The Wall
Four of the eight teams in the World Series lost their first game of the super regional before rallying with two wins to advance — Florida, Texas A&M, Baylor and LSU.
The Tigers are used to it. LSU has won five times when facing elimination in this tournament. They have 10 wins when facing elimination in the regional and super regional rounds during the past three NCAA Tournaments. LSU is allowing 1.9 runs per game during the postseason behind pitches Carley Hoover (15-7, 1.11 ERA) and Allie Walljasper (17-5, 1.37 ERA).
Baylor freshman Shelby McGlaun hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning of Game 3 to knock off second-seeded Arizona. Kelsee Selman (24-8) held Arizona in check and Gia Rodoni (18-3) has a 0.37 ERA during the postseason.
Riley Sartain had a three-run home run as Texas A&M rallied past Tennessee. Trinity Harrington (14-2) picked up both wins in the super regional as the Aggies outscored Tennessee 11-8 in the final two games.
Florida lost to Alabama before 2-0 and 2-1 wins propelled them to Oklahoma City.
Oregon enters the World Series on a 15-game win streak after starting the year 35-0. Oregon may be the most balanced team in the field, ranked fifth nationally in team ERA (1.33) and scoring (6.64 runs per game).
Oregon is averaging 7.6 runs during the postseason without hitting a home run. Alexis Mack (hitting .417 with 27 stolen bases), Nikki Udria (.396, 10 home runs) and Danica Mercado (.382, 25 steals) lead a team that is finding success without the long ball.
Two players in the World Series field earned national awards at Tuesday’s banquet. Barnhill, the SEC Pitcher of the Year, was named the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year.
UCLA’s Rachel Garcia was named the Schutt Sports/NFCA Division I National Freshman of the Year. Garcia, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is 20-7 on the year with a 1.85 ERA and 179 strikeouts. She also has a .333 batting average for the Bruins.
Garcia picked up both wins at the super regional, throwing 232 pitches during an 11-inning win against Ole Miss. She returned to the circle the next day to pitch four hitless innings in relief in a 1-0 win.
Others To Watch
UCLA had a streak of 11 straight games with at least one home run snapped in clinching its win against Ole Miss. … Third baseman Brianna Tautalafua went 5-of-9 for UCLA against Ole Miss. … Washington catcher Morganne Flores is hitting .515 in her past 10 games as the Huskies average 6.1 runs. … Huskies sophomore pitcher Taran Alvelo (32-7) has started all six NCAA Tournament games.
Tom Glave has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Now based in Houston, he covered prep and college sports for newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas for nine years.