They played more than enough innings for two whole games, but the Oklahoma Sooners are surely still glad to take the one win for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship series with Florida.
In a game that shattered the previous record of 12 for longest in Women's College World Series championship round history, Oklahoma outlasted the Gators 7-5 in 17 innings thanks to a two-out, three-run homer by Shay Knighten in the top half of the frame.
Facing Florida ace Kelly Barnhill, who had thrown seven innings to start the game and then reentered in the 16th, Knighten crushed a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left to put the Sooners ahead for good. It was the third time Oklahoma hit a home run to take a late lead, but unlike the first two occasions, the Gators had no answer.
Paige Lowary got the win after, like Barnhill, she reentered the game in extra innings following a solid start. She pitched the first five innings and the final 5.1 for a line of 10.1 innings, four runs and eight strikeouts. She allowed the Gators to load the bases in the bottom of the 17th with one out, but a sacrifice fly and strikeout ended the threat.
After 17 innings, Game 1 goes to the Sooners. pic.twitter.com/e2OsvU3yrK— ESPN (@espn) June 6, 2017
Oklahoma's Nicole Mendes and Fale Aviu came up huge with go-ahead homers in the sixth and 12th innings, respectively, but Florida refused to go away both times.
Facing Gators reliever Delanie Gourley in the 12th, who had gone 67 innings and 12 appearances since allowing an earned run, Aviu smashed the first pitch she saw over the fence in right field to put the Sooners up 4-2.
But back came the Gators in the bottom of the inning, scoring two runs on an Amanda Lorenz double with two outs in the inning. They were also down to their final out in the seventh when they rallied to push the game to extras, when Sophia Reynoso blooped a double into left with the outfielders playing deep and scored Aleshia Ocasio from first.
Florida ties it up!— ESPN (@espn) June 6, 2017
Game 1 of the WCWS Championship is headed to extras. pic.twitter.com/g0GwTdNv9s
Barnhill had a perfect game going with one out in the fifth inning and looked every bit as dominant as a pitcher with a 0.34 earned-run average coming in should. But Nicole Pendley laced a double just past the glove of the Gators right fielder and three pitches later, Sydney Romero singled up the middle to make it a 1-1 game.
After Lowary — starting in a surprise move from coach Patty Gasso after serving solely as a reliever since late April — set down the Gators 1-2-3 on six pitches in the bottom of the inning, Nicole Mendes put the defending champions ahead on a 1-2 pitch up in the zone.
But the Florida rally off Oklahoma ace Paige Parker — on in relief — proved it wasn't only the defending champions who can find some late-inning magic.
Lowary took the win for the Sooners despite blowing the save in the 12th. Parker filled in for 6.2 innings, while Gourley threw eight innings of relief for the Gators before handing the ball back to Barnhill. The five earned runs were unheard of for Barnhill, who had only allowed nine all season in 184.2 innings coming in.
With the victory, Oklahoma is one win away from its second championship in a row and third in five seasons. This backs-against-the-wall situation is nothing new to this year's Gators, however, as they faced elimination in both the Regionals and Super Regionals but buckled down from there. This was their first loss in Oklahoma City, while Oklahoma improved to 4-0 at the final site. Game 2 is set to take place Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.