Oklahoma softball: Sooners are national champions a second straight year

Sophomore Shay Knighton stroked a two-out, bases-clearing double in the second inning to give the defending national champion Oklahoma softball team a 5-3 lead that the Sooners never surrendered in Game 2 of the 2017 Women’s College World Series.

The Sooners held on for a 5-4 win over top-seeded Florida Gators and captured a second consecutive national championship in softball.

Jun 6, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Florida vs. Oklahoma at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma took a quick 1-0 lead in the opening inning of Game 2 as leadoff hitter Nicole Mendes hit an opposite-field home run to left field.

Sooner starter Paige Parker, who threw over 100 pitches in 6 2/3 innings of relief in Monday’s marathon Game 1 in the Women’s College World Series, struggled with her command early in Game 2, facing only 12 batters and yielding four hits along with three bases on balls. Last year’s most outstanding player in the WCWS got out of the first inning after issuing walks to two of the first five batters she faced.

The second inning was a different story, however, as the Gators put a three-spot on the scoreboard. Shortstop Sophia Reynoso lead off the inning with a home run hit in almost the exact same spot in left field as the one by OU’s Mendes in the first. Florida had three more hits off Parker in the inning that led to a run and Mariah Lopez hit a batter to force in a third run, as the Gators jumped out in front 3-1.

Like Florida the night before, Oklahoma responded in kind in its half of the second inning. The lower third of the Sooner lineup went 0 for 17 in Game 1, but on Tuesday night, Macey Hatfield , the only senior in the OU starting lineup, and Kelsey Arnold both singled in the OU half of the second and Lea Wodach worked a walk, loading the bases with one out.

Delanie Gourley, who struck out 13 Sooners in an eight-inning relief role in Game 1, entered the Tuesday’s game in the second frame, replacing Florida surprise starter Aleshia Ocasio, and struck out Mendes, but walked Caleigh Clifton, forcing in OU’s second run of the game.

That set the stage for Knighton’s game-winning extra-base hit and her sixth, seventh and eighth runs batted in of this year’s WCWS.

Florida added one more run, in the top of the third, on a home run by Chelsea Herndon to draw within a run of the Sooners, at 5-4, but that would be the end of the offense for both teams for the remainder of the game.

It was a much different game with the bats for OU in Game 2. The Sooners struck out a record 26 times in 17 innings in Game 1,  but went down on strikes just five times on Tuesday night.

A combination of two freshman, Lopez and Mendes, pitched the middle innings for OU and Paige Lowary finished off the championship with two perfect innings of relief, setting down all six Florida hitters she faced.

Following a loss to North Dakota State in the very first game of the postseason in the Norman Regional, the Sooners went 11-0 thereafter, including WCWS wins over No. 15 Baylor, No. 6 Washington, No. 3 Oregon and a two-game championship series sweep of No, 1 Florida.

After going 2-2 to start the season and losing seven of their first 31 games, the Sooners won 38 of their final 40 games to end the season at 61-9 as NCAA Division I college softball’s No. 1 team for a second straight year.