Oklahoma had to wait until their second time through the order to record a hit on Monday but they weren’t about to wait that long Tuesday night. Freshman Nicole Mendes sent a message to the sell-out crowd at USA Softball Stadium with a lead-off home run that cleared the fence in left field. It marked the first time in three games that the Sooners scored first in the Women’s College World Series and, despite leaving runners stranded, the crimson and cream vibes permeated the stadium after the opening frame.
The party along the third-base side and through the outfield bleachers didn’t last long though. Florida’s Sophia Reynoso sent her own message with a lead-off home run near the same spot that Mendes had landed. Not satisfied with tying the game, the Gators would use a double, a walk, and a single to load the bases for Aleshia Ocasio. Florida’s starting pitcher hit an RBI to right field to give the Gators a 2-1 lead and then, after a pitching change, Mariah Lopez drilled Kayli Kvistad on a pitch with the bases loaded, scoring Justine McLean and giving Florida their biggest lead of the championship series at 3-1.
That was just the beginning of a crazy second inning that would see both teams bring all nine batters to the plate. The Sooners would load the bases, leading Florida to a pitching change, allowing Caleigh Clifton to battle her way to an RBI walk that would plate Macey Hatfield and keep the bases stacked. Shay Knighten made sure they wouldn’t stay that way though. Her bases clearing double to center field scored three runs and put Oklahoma back on top 5-3. A series that featured a forty-strikeout pitcher’s duel on Monday night was now a slugfest on Tuesday night.
“Being in those moments, I’ve just got to keep myself calm, just stay relaxed and just kind of not think about what if, just kind of go for it,” Knighten said about her big moment. “And it paid off, but I just wanted to do everything for my team, and to finish this way is really cool.”
Knighten would go on to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after delivering 3-RBI hits to clinch the game in both games of the championship series. She was also one of four Oklahoma players to be named to the All-Tournament Team, joining Paige Lowary, Paige Parker, and Nicole Mendes.
Chelsea Herndon went yard to straight center field in the top of the third, pulling the Gators to within 5-4, before Delanie Gourley put the Sooners down in order for the first time of the night in the bottom half.
It was all zeros on the board for the next three innings, setting up a tension-filled seventh. As Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ blared in the stadium, the Sooners were praying that Paige Lowary’s arm would hold up for three more outs. Those prayers were answered as Lowary sat the Gators down in order, with to strikeouts, to secure Oklahoma’s second consecutive national championship and third in the last five years.
“Words cannot express — I still cannot believe that this happened,” Patty Gasso said, “with where we started and where we finished. There’s so many stories. The journey was unbelievable. I think if you looked at us in February and March, even parts of April, you would never imagine us sitting here right now with trophies in front of us.”