OU to bid for WCWS 4-peat after walk-off homer

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — For the fifth straight season, Oklahoma earned a trip to the Women’s College World Series championship series, delivering another dose of Sooner Magic and stunning Florida with a walk-off home run by Jayda Coleman in the eighth inning on Tuesday.

The drama won’t stop there. The No. 2 Sooners will face No. 1 Texas in a Red River Rivalry at the WCWS in a best-of-three series beginning Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN/ESPN+), just the second time since national seeding began in 2005 that the top two seeds will meet.

“We know each other very well,” said Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, who will be gunning for an unprecedented fourth straight national championship. “I don’t know that there are a lot of secrets. It’s going to be an absolute battle.”

The Sooners’ title streak looked to be in jeopardy after they were rocked on Monday by Florida in a 9-3 loss, then falling behind early in Tuesday’s elimination game after the Gators hit three more home runs to lead 5-2 after three innings. But starting pitcher Kelly Maxwell settled in and found a groove, holding Florida to just one hit the rest of the way as Oklahoma clawed back.

“I didn’t kind of have my best stuff,” said Maxwell, a transfer from Oklahoma State in her first season at OU. “I knew I was going to make an adjustment in the middle of the game. I flipped a switch, chose my fighter and went to war, I think.”

Oklahoma rallied to close the gap to 5-4 in the fourth inning on a home run by first baseman Cydney Sanders, and freshman Ella Parker, who homered in the first inning, drove in a run to tie it in the bottom of the sixth. Then Coleman, the senior who has never finished a season without a national title, came through again for Oklahoma.

Coleman blasted freshman Keagan Rothrock’s 154th pitch of the game — the most she has thrown in her young Florida career — over the fence and the glove of left fielder Korbe Ortis as a raucous pro-Oklahoma crowd at Devon Field exhaled and celebrated.

Coleman crossed home plate with her teammates waiting, scoring her 282nd career run for the Sooners, passing Jocelyn Alo for the most in program history.

“One of the better games in College World Series history,” Gasso said. “A nail-biter. A little bit of everything.”

Florida coach Tim Walton, who on Monday became Gasso’s first former assistant coach to beat her in 53 attempts, agreed.

“Obviously, some made-for-TV-type drama stuff the last few days,” Walton said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way for these guys. They’ve showed that they can take a punch and punch back.”

The Sooners eventually put 12 hits together off Rothrock, who finished the season with 33 wins and 262 innings pitched, both the most in Division I. After holding the Oklahoma bats in check on Monday, she went all eight innings again Tuesday, throwing a combined 284 pitches.

“There’s only so much you can ask of a freshman,” said Kendra Falby, Florida’s Gold Glove center fielder. “Keagan came out and did everything and more for us. I couldn’t have asked anything more. She stunned Oklahoma for two days. You haven’t seen that at all. She’s only going to get better. She wanted the ball. She would have fought Coach Walton if he would have not put her in today.”

The Sooners once again made history with the comeback. OU won its eighth consecutive elimination game at the WCWS, tied for the longest all-time streak with Florida State from 2018 to 2021 and two UCLA streaks from the 1980s.

“Today was different,” Oklahoma All-American senior Tiare Jennings said. “We knew we were going to fight from the gate. They came out and punched first. We came out and punched again.”

Now, they get ready to defend their titles, their home state and their dominance in one of the most heated rivalries in college sports. This time, however, Oklahoma has been the team fighting its way to the championship series while Texas has cruised. The Longhorns are 3-0 in Oklahoma City, allowing just one hit in each game with no runs allowed, including a 10-0 run-rule victory over the same Florida team on Saturday. Texas is the first team since Tennessee in 2007 to reach the finals without allowing a run.

OU won its second title in this streak against the Longhorns in 2022 in dominating fashion, winning the two games 16-1 and 20-5. This year, however, the Longhorns have continued to catch up to OU. They were 2-2 against each other this season, with Texas winning the regular-season series 2-1 before the Sooners beat the Longhorns in the Big 12 tournament.

“Kind of feel like we’re the underdogs this year,” Gasso said. “That’s OK. It’s good for us. We had to really fight our way through here.”

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