Underdog Sooners in Red River showdown with WCWS history at stake for both combatants

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Sixty-four teams and 134 games played in the 2024 NCAA Softball Tournament, and it all comes down to this: a Women's College World Series championship series between two very familiar foes, the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.

How could it be any better, the top two teams in the country battling it out on college softball's biggest stage and for the sport's top prize: a national championship?

Thirteen teams from the SEC began the tournament, seven from the Pac-12 and five each from the Big 12 and ACC. And the two that remain standing are from the Big 12, but this time next month will be members of the SEC.

Texas, the Big 12 regular-season champions, snapped Oklahoma's 11-year dominance, at the top of conference standings this season, but the Sooners exacted some revenge by defeating the Longhorns 5-1 to win the Big 12 postseason tournament championship.

The two teams have played each other four times this season, splitting the four games. Texas won the regular-season series 2-1 in Austin. OU won the opening game 5-2 with Kelly Maxwell in the circle, and the Longhorns took the next two by identical 2-1 scores.

Oklahoma (57-7) has been to each of the last five WCWS championship series and are the three-time defending national champions, seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive national title. Despite this, the Sooners are the underdogs in this year's championship series.

"We know each other very well," said OU head coach Patty Gasso in her postgame press conference after defeating Florida on Tuesday to advance to the championship series. "Kind of feel like we're the underdogs this year. That's OK. It's good for us. We had to really fight our way through here."

The Sooners will be going up against the hottest team in this year's Women's College World Series and perhaps the hottest team over the past month and a half of the season. The top-seeded Longhorns were 5-1 in the NCAA regional and super regional rounds and have cruised to three straight victories in the WCWS, allowing just one hit by each of their three opponents -- Stanford twice and Florida -- and outscoring them 15-0. That included a 10-0 run-rule win over a Florida team that came close to eliminating Oklahoma.

The Longhorns have won 55 games this season (55-7), which is tied for the most in program history. One more win will set a new program record.

Oklahoma is 11-6 in its nine WCWS championship series appearances and has a 4-0 record against Texas in the WCWS. The two teams faced each other in the 2022 championship series, won by the Sooners in two games, 16-1 and 10-5. Five current Sooners played on that OU championship team.

History will be made in this championship series regardless of which side you're rooting for. An Oklahoma win would be the Sooners' fourth consecutive national championship, a new record in NCAA softball, and their eighth overall, tying them with Arizona for the second most all-time.

Texas is seeking its first national championship in softball in its second championship series appearance (2022 was the other).

This will be a showcase of two of the best offensive teams in the country that both also happen to have outstanding pitching. The Longhorns and Sooners rank in the top three nationally in several major offensive categories.

Most experts are favoring Texas in this series, largely on the basis of how well the Longhorns are playing currently. The Horns may be the heavy favorite, but Oklahoma knows this stage well and has owned it over the past three seasons, winning six times in the past decade (2013, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022 and 2023) and finishing as runner-up one other time (2019).

For the Sooners to win the championship series, they are going to have to have better consistency in the circle (getting ahead in pitching counts, limiting walks, keeping the ball in the yard and relying on an outstanding defense to make plays) and the offense must get timely hits -- and a few long balls -- with runners in scoring position.

Otherwise, it's going to be a difficult uphill slog against an outstanding Texas team that has its full focus on its first national title.