Sooners, Crimson Tide meet for women’s CWS title
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Pac 12’s run of Women’s College World Series championships has been interrupted.
Jackie Traina homered and threw a two-hitter, Kaila Hunt and Jazlyn Lunceford also connected and Alabama beat top-seeded California 5-2 on Sunday to reach the Women’s College World Series finals for the first time.
The No. 2 seed Crimson Tide (58-7) will face Oklahoma (53-8), which knocked off defending champion Arizona State 5-3 in the other semifinal. Both teams arrive on 11-game winning streaks.
The best-of-three championship series starting Monday night marks the first time since 1986 that no Pac-12 teams made it to the finals. The conference had won six straight titles, 10 of the past 11 and 23 of 30 since the tournament started.
“There’s athletes everywhere now — I mean everywhere — and if you find them, you’re going to put together a good team,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
“It doesn’t matter who it is or where you’re at. Cold weather, warm weather, East Coast, West Coast, if you can put them together and you can coach them up, you’re going to have a good team and I think it’s great for the sport.”
This time, it will be the Big 12 going for its fourth NCAA title while Alabama will go for the Southeastern Conference’s first.
“The way we’ve gone through this tournament, we’ve played the best and I like it that way because we’ve earned the right to be here,” said Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, whose fourth-seeded Sooners beat California on Friday night before knocking Arizona State out of the double-elimination event.
Oklahoma is in the finals for the first time since winning its only national championship in 2000, when the title was decided with a single game.
Katie Norris homered, Keilani Ricketts struck out 13 and the Sooners struck for four runs in the third inning against Dallas Escobedo (24-8) to take control.
Ricketts hit an RBI single that tied it at 2 and Jessica Shults followed with a two-run double that nicked off right fielder Alix Johnson’s glove as she tried for a diving grab. Shults then came in to score when third baseman Haley Steele lost Norris’ potential inning-ending popup and let it fall.
“I just love the tenacity of this team, and to find a way to play for a national championship has been our ultimate dream and our ultimate goal,” Gasso said. “And to know that it has a chance for reality, it is unbelievable.
“The hard work and effort they put in, there’s not another team that deserves it more than my Sooners.”
The Crimson Tide ended a Sunday jinx at the World Series after getting eliminated in the semifinals three of the past four years. They were knocked out on a game-ending grand slam in 2009 and lost twice last year just one win away from the championship round.
SEC teams have lost in the finals three of the past five years.
“We’d love to do that, we’d love to bring it home to our conference and show we have the power,” Alabama catcher Kendall Dawson said. “But we’re just going to stick with our game.”
The only other times there wasn’t a Pac-12 finalist were when Texas A&M beat Cal State-Fullerton in 1983 and when the teams met again with the opposite result three years later.
“There’s more parity across the country and there’s great teams across the country, and it’s good for softball,” Golden Bears coach Diane Ninemire said.
California’s Danielle Henderson launched a two-run homer halfway up the left-field bleachers to tie it at 2 in the fourth, but Alabama struck right back. Dawson bounced an RBI single into center in the bottom half, and Hunt’s 21st homer made it 4-2 in the fifth.
Dawson picked off Henderson to snuff out a rally in the sixth, when the Golden Bears (58-7) put runners on first and second with nobody out. Henderson slipped as she tried to get back to the base.
Traina (40-2) struck out Cheyenne Cordes to end the threat, and Lunceford tacked on a leadoff shot against Jolene Henderson (38-4) just over the right-field fence in the sixth.
“Being No. 1, it means a lot but it also means people are going to be gunning for you,” California’s Jamia Reid said. “We knew that coming here, it was going to be a tough World Series.”
Ricketts (36-7) hadn’t given up an earned run in 40 consecutive innings before Annie Lockwood’s two-run double in the first but was able to limit Arizona State (53-11) to three runs despite giving up eight hits and a season-high four walks.
Norris cut Oklahoma’s deficit in half with her lined shot over the center-field fence in the second, and Ricketts was back ahead after Johnson fully extended to try to catch Shults’ liner to the gap in right-center but had the ball pop out of her glove.
“We had just that one bad inning where a few squeak in and they just fall,” Lockwood said, “and we don’t get those plays when we needed them.”