It was the game that would not end. An epic, marathon battle that lasted more than five and a half hours and the length of two and a half games before a drained, but determined Oklahoma softball squad was finally able to close it out with a 7-5 victory.
This would have been a classic confrontation at any point in the season, but the fact that it was Game 1 in the Women’s College World Series elevated the ensuing drama to one of extraordinary proportions, the likes of which may never be seen again.
Twice, once in the seventh inning and again in the 12th, Florida was down to its last strike, only to rise from the ashes and somehow manage to deliver clutch hits to tie the game. In the seventh, the Gators erased a one-run deficit. They were down a couple of runs in the 12th after a two-run home run off the bat of OU’s Fale Aviu in the top half of the inning.
And again in the 17th inning, after the Sooners had taken a 7-4 lead on the strength of a towering three-run blast by sophomore Shay Knighton in the visitor’s half of the inning, Florida had the highly partisan Oklahoma crowd biting finger nails and wondering if the Gators could stage a third improbable comeback.
The Gators managed to get their first two batters on base in the bottom half of the 17th on infield singles, and pushed across a run on a fly ball to left fielder Macey Hatfield. But junior Paige Lowary, the Oklahoma starter, who was back in the game in relief of Paige Parker, struck out Kayli Kvistad, Florida’s second best hitter and biggest power threat, with two on and two out to finally bring the marathon game to a close.
Sooner head coach Patty Gasso, in her press conference following the game, called it “a game of will, a game of team, a game of character. It was an emotional, emotional roller coaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget.”
No question, it was a game for the ages. At the end, both teams were running on fumes,
Chalk it up to the two Paiges, Lowary and Parker, who both threw over 100 pitches in the game and yielded only a dozen Florida hits over 17 innings, and, of course, the Power of Three, as the Sooners like to call it – in this case home runs by Aviu, Nicole Mendes and the game-winner by Knighton.
I’m not sure what either team will have left in Game 2 on Tuesday night, but the Game 1 victor clearly is in the driver’s seat.
The win was the 60th for Oklahoma this season and leaves them needing just one more to become only the fourth team in NCAA Division I history to win back-to-back World Series championships in softball.
Those of us who sat through the Game 1 action saw the incredible fight in the Florida Gators, a strong testament to why they are the overall top seed in the tournament. Don’t expect this Gator squad to lie down and hand the championship to the Sooners, especially now that their proverbial backs are to the wall.
Oklahoma still has to win one more game, and you can be sure that Florida – which, incidentally, is coached by a former OU player and assistant coach, Tim Walton – is going to muster everything it has to prevent that from happening.
If you are a glass half full kind of sports fan, consider this: Seventy-five percent of the teams that win Game 1 in the Women’s College World Series go on to win the championship. For those of you who are of the nervous recognition that nothing is over until it actually is, you would be best not to recall the 2012 championship series. The Sooners won Game 1 of that series against Alabama (another SEC team), but lost the next two games to finish as runner-up.