Florida stays alive with 9-3 win over Sooners, putting reigning WCWS champions on brink of elimination

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Florida hammered four home runs and scored in every inning but one, punching reigning national champion Oklahoma in the mouth with a 9-3 win in the Women's College World Series and setting up a winner-take-all repeat showdown on Tuesday for a spot in the WCWS championship series.

Freshman Florida pitcher Keagan Rothrock had the Oklahoma hitters off balance for most of the game and earning a complete-game victory, her 33rd of the season against eight losses. The one flaw in her performance was eight walks, four in the final inning alone after she had thrown over 120 pitches.

The Gators jumped on the Sooners early with a run on two hits, and added two more in the second on back-to-back home runs by No. 9 hitter Kendra Falby and Florida All-American Skylar Wallace. Falby's round-tripper was of the inside-the-park variety when OU left-fielder Rylie Boone dove for and missed a bloop fly in shallow left that ended up rolling down into the left field corner.

Florida scored a single run in the third and three more in the fourth on a three-run bomb to left by Reagan Walsh. By that point in the game Oklahoma found itself down 7-1 and in danger of being run-ruled for the first time in the team's WCWS history. Moreover, the Sooners were 0-8 when trailing by four or more runs in their WCWS history.

Oklahoma biggest threat come in the top of the fifth when Avery Hodge doubled to lead off the inning and Tiare Jennings followed two batters later with a line-drive home run that cleared the right center field fence, the 97th in her star-studded career at OU. Wallace hit her second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a two-run shot to counter Jennings. That made the score 9-3 in favor of the Gators, and that's the way it ended up.

Sooner head coach Patty Gasso elected to go with senior right-hander Nicole May as the OU starting pitcher, perhaps with the thinking that she could save OU's ace Kelly Maxwell for the "if necessary" game if the Sooners didn't win, or possibly give her a couple days of rest before the start of the championship series.

Either way, May, who had won 62 games with just 5 losses in her college career, struggled from the jump, giving up four runs on six hits in two innings of work. Of her 55 total pitches, only 32 were for strikes.

Gasso turned to the bullpen with two on and nobody out in the third, bringing in sophomore left-hander Kierston Deal, who went 3.2 innings and also had difficulty finding the strike zone. Senior transfer Karlie Keeney entered the game to record the final out in the Florida sixth.

Ella Parker and Kinzie Hansen collected a couple of hits apiece for the Sooners, but other than that the OU offense was very stagnant, OU had scoring opportunities, leaving two runners on base in both the fifth and sixth and had the bases loaded when the final out was recorded in the seventh.

Oklahoma did not record its first hit of the game until the fourth inning, a sharp single to left center by the freshman Parker.

The loss ended Oklahoma's NCAA-record 20 game winning streak in postseason play. It also was just the Sooners fourth loss in 19 WCWS appearances since the 2021 season.

Patty Gasso was a perfect 52-0 against her former assistants who went on to accept head-coaching jobs. Florida head coach Tim Walton, who Gasso hired as an assistant after his playing career in baseball at Oklahoma, is the first to break that string. Walton was a pitcher at OU and played on the Sooners' 1994 national championship team.

One big difference

A major statistic that says a lot about the outcome of this game and Oklahoma's inconsistent offensive performance is the Sooners' at bats with runners on base. OU hitters were unable to produce the timely hit with runners on. They were just 3 of 15 with runners on base, according to my scorekeeping.

What comes next?

The original WCWS scheduled called for a second game to be played on Monday if Oklahoma or Texas lost. Because of a three-hour weather delay that pushed the OU-Florida game back to a 2 p.m. start and with Texas and Stanford still to play on Monday, it was decided to move any "if necessary" games to the originally scheduled off day on Tuesday. The time of the Oklahoma-Florida winner-take-all showdown is still to be determined.

Oklahoma is expected to go with Kelly Maxwell in the circle. Florida will probably stay with its ace Keagan Rockrock for a second day in a row.