Sooners and Longhorns: two rivals, two ways to win, headed for a network showdown
Day 1 of the Women's College World Series has set up a nationwide Day 3 showcase on ABC
OKLAHOMA CITY — Maybe Oklahoma’s just too good. Just too strong, end of story, drive home safely.
Or, maybe, rivalries really matter, so throw out the records and usher in the clichés, because that’s what’s happening at 2 p.m. Saturday on ABC when the Longhorns and Sooners hook up on a slightly less neutral field than the Cotton Bowl.
Or, maybe, given the two teams can win two very different ways, both will do their thing and hand us a classic and wouldn’t that be wonderful as the Women’s College World Series makes its return to network television.
Texas, of course, opened the WCWS on Thursday with a 7-2 victory over UCLA, the Bruins the No. 5 national seed, as well as the next highest after the Sooners to make it to Hall of Fame Stadium.
Oklahoma won more even easily, trouncing Northwestern and ballyhooed Wildcat starting pitcher Danielle Williams 13-2 in only five innings.
The temptation after a game like that is to see the Sooners at face value and, why not, of their 55 wins, 39 have been run-rules, Thursday’s baker’s dozen output not remotely unique, their having posted at least that many runs 10 times this season, which ain’t easy when you hardly ever play the full seven.
But it’s not that simple.
Oklahoma destroys you, yes, but it does it after figuring you out, and that was Thursday’s lesson, perhaps to the entire World Series field if it managed to pay attention.
“You’ve got to execute your pitch and then you’ve got to stay one pitch ahead of them,” said Northwestern coach Kate Drohan a half hour after her team was drubbed.
It sounds right, but it’s not exactly what happened, or what failed to happen, in the Sooners’ seven-run third inning, all of it a half frame after a towering solo shot from Rachel Lewis had Oklahoma trailing for the first time since the Big 12 tournament.
“We were a little out front earlier in the game,” Sooner slugger Tiare Jennings said. “We just had to adjust to her changeup.”
But that’s not quite it either.
What happened was Oklahoma flat sat on the pitch.
Williams arrived at the World Series among the nation’s very best pitchers, having won 31 games with a stellar 1.86 earned run average and so much of it thanks to that beautiful changeup, the one that had the Sooners swinging twice the first two innings, once with their bodies too early and once with their arms and hands too late.
Suddenly, everything changed.
Riley Boone doubled off the left-field wall, Jana Johns beat the shift with a chopper into left field and Jayda Coleman, clearly sitting changeup, lashed a single to right field. After Jocelyn Alo was given nothing to swing at, walking the bases loaded, up came Jennings, taking the first pitch she saw — changeup, of course — over the center-field wall.
The Sooners appear so herculean and have the numbers to prove it, but so much of that story is how it happens and “making adjustments” is not nearly dramatic enough a term.
What Oklahoma did was sit on Williams’ best pitch, willing to be beaten by her fastball and what Northwestern failed to do was realize it was happening and, forgive me, change up the sequence.
“I kind of had a feeling,” Jennings said, “that it was going to come first pitch.”
The number of times prior to Thursday anybody turned Williams’ biggest strength into a horrendous weakness was likely zero, so you can hardly blame the Wildcats.
The Sooners are big, strong, powerful and can slug it over the scoreboard with you, but they beat you with their brains first to make it happen.
Texas has utter contempt for your ability to continue making plays.
It likes to turn walks into doubles. It’s happy to get the ball rolling and let you bury yourself.
If it doesn’t work, it’s got a big-time pitcher in Hailey Dolcini and Thursday it put hits together against UCLA’s Megan Faraimo, lifting her earned run average from 1.70 to 1.95. Still, deep in its heart, Texas wants to frustrate you.
Top of the third, nine-hole hitter Bella Dayton led off with a single and immediately stole second base. Next, Janae Jefferson laid down a bunt, her speed forced a wild throw and Dayton came all the way around to score.
It wound up reversed, Jefferson called out upon review on an iffy interference call, yet the pressure the Longhorns wanted to exude became clear.
If they didn’t make their point then, they really made it in the top of seventh, up 7-1, still happy to be pests.
Katie Cimusz led off with a single and with Lauren Burke at the plate, took off for second, only to quickly stop. Alyssa Garcia, Bruin catcher, threw the ball into center field anyway.
Two batters later, Courtney Day at first base after a pair of fielder’s choices, J.J. Smith laced a single to right and Day rounded second, headed for third and stopped.
The throw came to third anyway. It was hurried but not wild, yet had it been, Day’s still running.
You can hate the Longhorns but you have to admire their gumption. It’s softball turned up loud, softball better than the sum of its parts.
“We have to start being aggressive,” Texas coach Mike White said, meaning from the first pitch. “If my kids, my players, see me lay off, they’re going to lay off.”
He did not lay off.
Two different things they’re really good at that gets the job done and Saturday they’ll play each other on a channel the whole nation gets.
Stories creating a story.
The World Series is fun.
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1: Texas 7, UCLA 2
2: Oklahoma 13, Northwestern 2
3: Florida 7, Oregon State 1
4: Oklahoma State 4, Arizona 2
5: UCLA vs. Northwestern 2, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
6: Oregon State vs. Arizona, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
7: Oklahoma vs. Texas, 2 p.m. (ABC)
8: Florida vs. Oklahoma State, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
9: Winner 5 vs. Loser 8, 2 p.m. (ABC)
10: Winner 6 vs. Loser 7, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
11: Winner 7 vs. Winner 9, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
12: Winner 7 vs. Winner 9, 1:30 p.m., if necessary (ESPN)
13: Winner 8 vs. Winner 10, 6 6.m. (ESPN)
14: Winner 8 vs. Winner 10, 8:30 p.m., if necessary (ESPN)
Championship Series, Game 1, TBA (ESPN)
Thursday, June 9
Championship Series, Game 2, TBA (ESPN2)
Friday, June 10
Championship Series, Game 3, if necessary, TBA (ESPN)