The heat is on
Four teams face elmination Saturday in Oklahoma City
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two elimination games are slated for Saturday evening, with the four losing teams from Thursday’s matchups taking the field to attempt to survive another day at the Women’s College World Series.
Things just didn’t fall in their favor on Thursday, with Nebraska, Florida, Arizona State and Michigan being the first to take losses. But thanks to the double-elimination format, these teams still have a fighting chance, which they will have to take full advantage of on Saturday.
The Huskers, the lowest-seeded squad in the WCWS, will meet No. 2-seed Florida in the 7 p.m. ET matchup. NU had the edge on the Huskies late in the game on Thursday but then momentum shifted in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie it up, and Washington ultimately hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth that sealed the deal.
“It’s always a heartbreaker, but we’re not going to be fazed by it,” Nebraska infielder Gabby Banda said. “We’re going to accept what happened and get past it and our thoughts are on the next game.”
What will be the key on Saturday to ensure a different outcome? Heart. Something the Huskers have played with all season long that surely won’t be any different against the Gators.
“You know, [Thursday], we didn’t have perfect execution, but we had perfect – what we’ve had all year – we’ve had perfect heart for the game, perfect purpose, perfect in a way that we played hard for each other and that we were all in it together, pitch for pitch,” NU head coach Rhonda Revelle said.
The Gators’ Thursday matchup was a tough one to swallow, suffering a 9-2 loss against Tennessee. The Lady Vols came out swinging, and swinging hard, in the top of the first inning, taking a 3-0 lead. In the fifth, Florida fought back to make it a 3-2 ballgame. However, UT had a quick answer in the sixth that put the game out of reach to send the Gators to the loser’s bracket.
“We didn’t play very well,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “It was uncharacteristic mistakes. I thought offensively we had a chance, came back there [in the fifth]. And we battled and I really give our kids credit for the fight. We just didn’t have enough, obviously, going to Lauren [Haeger] early in the game and she gave us a great chance to at least keep us in the game. Overall, it wasn’t our best game, that’s for sure.”
It’s now or never, at least this season, for Florida. Strong pitching from starter Hannah Rogers and clutch hitting with runners in scoring position will be vital for the Gators.
“At the World Series, you don’t get an opportunity to lose two games,” Walton added. “So you have to make sure you come out, you’re ready to go and play like it’s your last.”
At 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Arizona State takes on Michigan in the second loser’s bracket game of the night. The fifth-seeded Sun Devils couldn’t shake Texas in Thursday’s showdown, falling 6-3. The game was scoreless through four innings, but in the fifth when bats got hot, it was the Longhorns who were able to come out on top down the stretch.
“Spirits are up,” ASU head coach Clint Myers said. “It's a situation where we've got to come out and play Arizona State softball. Had we done that [Thursday], we probably would have won. We just didn't make it happen. Again, no excuses. I mean, you get what you sow, so to speak. It has to be pitch better, hit better, field it better, throw better. We did make some adjustments, and we faced a very good pitcher, but we made some adjustments and so we were moving in the right direction. We just ran out of time.”
Time could be running out for the Sun Devils at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, but there’s still work to do. It’s a situation the team has been in before, and one they are ready to face to keep their title hopes alive.
“So, I mean, there is some softball yet to play,” Myers added. “Don't count the Devils out. Again, this is a good ball club that has the capability of playing very, very well. When we play that type of softball, the Arizona State way, we're very tough to beat. So don't count us out yet.”
Counting the Sun Devils out however is exactly what Michigan plans to do after Oklahoma made its own statement on Thursday, toppling the Wolverines 7-1 behind a no-hitter by Keilani Ricketts.
“Well, I think you have to give credit where credit is due,” Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. “Oklahoma was all Oklahoma. They're as good as advertised, and Keilani no hit us. First time we've been no hit all year. I give them a lot of credit. They are a fantastic ball club, well coached, they play great softball. We were going to have to have a heck of an effort to beat them. … You can't give a great team, you can't give them anything.”
The Wolverines won’t be facing the favored-Sooners again on Saturday, but they can’t expect less of a fight from Arizona State.
“But I can tell you what, my kids believe in themselves, and we will regroup,” Hutchins said. “We'll put this in the past and we'll move forward and look forward to playing on Saturday. … What my team needs to take confidence in is they have beaten a number of great teams this season, and we need to have confidence in that. But we have two teams with their backs against the wall and they're fighting to stay alive and they get to keep playing together. So I expect a game.”
Actually, expect two games. The pressure is on in these loser-goes-home meetings on Saturday. It’s time to see what these teams are really made of, and heart, perseverance and determination will go a long way for two of them.