Oklahoma softball: Sooners will have hands full in WCWS opener

Oklahoma softball player Grace Lyons talks during a press conference, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the USA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex before the start of Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.Wcws
Oklahoma softball player Grace Lyons talks during a press conference, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the USA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex before the start of Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.Wcws /

When this Oklahoma softball team began the 2022 season, it had a very specific end goal in mind: Make it back to the Women’s College World Series and successfully defend its 2021 national championship.

Well, here we are. The No. 1 team in the country and defending champions have indeed made it back to Oklahoma City for the WCWS — for the sixth consecutive season and 15th time overall.

The Sooners have accumulated a 54-2 record during this NCAA record-breaking season. Of course, Oklahoma came into its opening game of last year’s WCWS with a 50-2 record and surprisingly dropped the game to James Madison.

The Sooners then took the long-way around and battled its way into the championship series, where they ultimately defeated Florida State. This year, their opening opponent is Northwestern, the No. 9 overall seed from the Big Ten Conference. This will be the only match up of the opening round featuring a pair of seeded teams.

Northwestern is a very good team that the Sooners will have to take seriously to defeat.

The game is set for 1:30 p.m. CT at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City and will be televised on ESPN.

What has Northwestern done this season?

Northwestern has been one of the most interesting teams in the country this season and has backed up its WCWS trip with incredible feats. Northwestern won the Big Ten regular=season championship, and defeated the likes of Missouri, Washington, Stanford, Clemson and UCLA during the season.

The weird part for the Wildcats has been the inconsistency, as they have fallen to lesser teams a couple of times through the season. In total, however, the Wildcats managed to out together a 45-11 record overall. They battled in one of the best Super Regionals maybe of all time against No. 8 seed Arizona State in Tempe, on ASU’s home field, in a series decided by merely two runs in three games.

What does Northwestern do well?

The Wildcats are ninth in the country in scoring average at 6.73 runs per game. They have done so with a balanced offensive attack, hitting a respectable .304 as a team and with an on-base percentage of .397. The top seven hitters for Northwestern are batting above .300.

The Big Ten champions manufacture runs by any means, they play small ball well and steal a base and a half per game. That’s not to say the ‘Cats don’t have the long ball in their arsenal. They have hit 76 of them on the season, led by senior and First-Team All American Rachel Lewis with 22.

Defensively, the Northwestern relies a lot on its ace pitcher Danielle Williams, who has a 31-4 record on the season. Her ERA is a solid 1.81. In addition, the Wildcats are one of the better fielding teams in the country. The team is well-balanced top to bottom

What will Oklahoma need to do to win?

Play their game. The Sooners are virtually an unbeatable team. They have the best defense, pitching and hitting in this tournament. It is rare for a team to possess all three, but this team is not normal, they are one of the greatest of all time.

Still, Oklahoma was an incredible team a season ago that lost Game 1 before turning things around and winning it all. The Sooners need to make sure they are taking absolutely nothing for granted in this contest. The other key is pitcher Jordy Bahl. We know she will be pitching at some point this week. Though it is not clear which game that will be in, or how many reps she will get coming back from injury.

Tim’s Prediction?

I will take Oklahoma 9-1 in a five-inning run rule. No disrespect to Northwestern, which is among the best teams in the country and earned its trip to Hall of Fame Stadium. The Wildcats will be a force for other teams in Oklahoma City. But the Sooners are well rested, and Northwestern is coming off a brutal meat grind of a Super Regional in Tempe, Arizona. Less than a week’s turnaround from that affair could lead to some heavy arms and legs.