How Oklahoma will rebound to beat Florida and advance to WCWS championship for 5th straight season

BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY
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The three-time defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners find themselves with their backs to the wall and facing elimination from the 2024 Women's College World Series. They have won three consecutive national titles and been to the championship series in four of the past five seasons the tournament has been held.

The No. 4-seeded Florida Gators defeated the Sooners by a surprisingly easy 9-3 score on Monday in a WCWS elimination game. Florida is now just one win away from advancing to the championship series against Texas, which begins on Wednesday. It should also be pointed out, however, that Oklahoma also is just one win away, and that will all be settled on Tuesday afternoon at OG&E Field at Devon Park in Oklahoma City.

Florida's surprising domination of Oklahoma in Monday's WCWS win was notable on several fronts. For one, its was the largest margin of defeat by a Sooner softball team since losing to then-No. 2 Washington 12-2 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. It was also the Sooners first loss in 20 consecutive NCAA postseason games, an NCAA record.

The Sooner pitching staff has been sharp all season, posting an ERA of 1.81 with 23 shutouts. But that wasn't the case on Monday as starter Nicole May and Kierston Deal struggling with command of their pitches, falling behind in counts and the opportunistic Florida hitters taking full advantage.

Florida (54-14) clearly deserved the win on Monday, But Tuesday is an all new day with all new possibilities.

As good as these two offenses are, pitching will be the determining factor in Tuesday's deciding game. The team and staff that does the better job of keeping hitters off the basepaths and balls in the park will win an This is an area where the Sooners should have the advantage, and here are the reasons why

Experience

Five-year veteran Kelly Maxwell will get the start for the Sooners. Maxwell has won 79 games in her career and has been in plenty of big games, including the Women's College World Series. The three-time All-American started both of Oklahoma's wins in this year's WCWS and is well rested for Tuesday's elimination game. She has allowed only one run in 10.2 innings along with 15 strikeouts.

Florida's standout pitcher Keagan Rothrock threw 131 pitches in the Gators win on Monday. Her durability will be a concern in this game, and the staff behind her is very young and not experienced on this stage. Plus the second best hitting team in the country saw her almost four times through the lineup on Monday. You would think the Sooners will make adjustments and be ready for her on a second day.

The Sooners' experience goes beyond the pitching circle

Oklahoma has 10 seniors on its roster, five of whom have played on OU's three consecutive national championship teams and have faced WCWS elimination games with a high degree of success. In 2021, the Sooners lost their opening game to James Madison and were still able to work their way past three elimination games to advance to the championship series. The Sooners then lost the opening game of the championship series to Florida State but rebounded to win the next two and capture the first of their three straight national titles.

The same thing happened in 2022, when undefeated OU lost to UCLA 7-3 in the WCWS semifinal round but rebounded with a 15-0 blowout win in the follow-up contest. The Sooners then went on to sweep Texas in the championship series.

The core of this Oklahoma team had won an NCAA record 20 consecutive NCAA postseason games and was 15-3 in the WCWS before yesterday's loss, despite having their backs to the wall on multiple occasions.

In Patty (Gasso) we trust...

Head coach Patty Gasso was asked postgame what she and the team talked about after suffering their worst loss in several seasons:

"Who are we? What are we made of?" she said. "We talked about really going in (to Tuesday's game) as an army of 21, instead of separation here, separation there, frustration over there. We can't live like that. We talked about family, strong knit, 21, fighting for every pitch, fighting for every out."

"Tough game for us. Florida hit the ball really well today. Credit them that...The beauty of this is that we have another opportunity to make it right."

Patty Gasso

Statistical comparison

(National ranking in parentheses)

Oklahoma Florida

Scoring: 7.95 (3) 7.55 (5)

Batting average: .363 (2) .332 (11)

On-base percentage: .470 (1) .442 (4)

Home runs: 114 (3) 93 (4)

ERA: 1.81 (5) 2.88 (64)

Fielding percentage: .980 (2) .976 (18)

Prediction

Oklahoma 6, Florida 3

Look for Oklahoma to rebound in this game and advance to the Sooners' fourth WCWS championship series in the past five years the WCWS has been held.