OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma can become the first Division I softball program in more than 30 years to win three straight national championships.
Florida State ace Kathryn Sandercock -- one of the nation’s top pitchers in recent years -- stands in the Sooners’ way. Oklahoma (59-1) and Florida State (58-9) will meet tonight in Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series best-of-three championship series.
Oklahoma is on a Division I-record 51-game winning streak and leads the nation in scoring, batting average and home runs. The Sooner lineup boasts four National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-Americans in Tiare Jennings, Jayda Coleman, Kinzie Hansen and Alyssa Brito.
Sandercock has no reason to back down. She’s a second-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American who enters the championship series with a 28-3 record, a 1.05 ERA and 10 saves. She is fourth in the nation in wins, second in saves and sixth in ERA. At the World Series this year, she has a 0.51 ERA with two wins and a save in three games.
“I think it’s just the coolest challenge as a pitcher to put yourself up against the best and see what you’ve got,” Sandercock said.
She also has been on this big stage before. She was Florida State’s ace in 2021, when the Sooners and Seminoles played for the title. She made the All-Tournament team that year.
“She’s such a competitive pitcher,” Oklahoma’s Grace Lyons said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of competitive pitchers this year, but she has a really cool way she pitches. She does a lot of different things and keeps hitters on edge. So I think we’re just excited to get her best and Florida State’s best because it’s going to take a complete team on both sides to win a series.”
Oklahoma’s run toward three straight titles almost didn’t happen.
Florida State defeated the Sooners 8-4 in Game 1 of the 2021 championship series. Kaley Mudge and Kalei Harding -- key players on the current team who were freshmen back then -- were the offensive stars that day, and Sandercock got the save.
Oklahoma won Game 2 6-2, then claimed the decisive Game 3 5-1.
Oklahoma held on to beat Florida State 5-4 on March 14 in Norman, Okla.
Sandercock started and gave up one run in two innings. Alex Storako got the win for Oklahoma and Jordy Bahl got the save.
Alyssa Brito had three hits and Jennings and Haley Lee had two each.
Jennings knocked in the winning run with a single in the fourth, and the game was scoreless the rest of the way. Bahl allowed one baserunner in three innings of work.
“Am I surprised that we’re both here? No,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “But we’re a different team than we were in March, as are they. So we’re familiar with names and their style, but we’ve got to go back to the drawing board like we haven’t seen them before.”
Jennings and Coleman have been among the most productive World Series players ever.
Jennings is tied with Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo’s World Series career record with 28 RBI -- and she’s only a junior. No players other than Jennings and Alo have more than 19.
Alo also has the record of 22 career runs scored. Coleman, another junior, has moved into second place all time with 17.
Oklahoma’s Bahl has not allowed an earned run in 14 2/3 innings at the World Series.
Last year, she was coming off an arm injury and was reduced to a secondary role at the World Series. This year, she has all three wins in Oklahoma City for the Sooners.
The sophomore from Papillion, Neb., was a first-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American this season. She enters the championship series with a 21-1 record and a 0.97 ERA.
Mudge stormed onto the scene during the 2021 World Series.
A player who struggled to crack the lineup during the regular season set a series record of 14 hits that still stands.
She has continued her strong play. This season, she was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-team performer. She enters the championship series with a .351 batting average, 18 doubles, 19 stolen bases and 43 RBI.
Florida State catcher Michaela Edenfield has two home runs at the World Series, making her the only player with more than one this year.
Edenfield is batting .375 in Oklahoma City and is tied for the World Series lead in total bases with nine.
A key reason both teams have made it this far is pitching depth.
Oklahoma has two pitchers besides Bahl who would be aces on most staffs. Nicole May has an 18-0 record with a 0.91 ERA and Storako has a 17-0 record with a 1.12 ERA.
Florida State counters with freshman Makenna Reid. She has a 13-0 record and a 0.89 ERA with six saves.