The first taste of victory in Oklahoma City is sweet, and for four teams — Arizona, UCLA, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma — the accomplishment of winning their opening game in the 2019 Women’s College World Series earned them the opportunity to stay alive in the championship bracket.
The Wildcats topped No. 3 Washington in the first upset game on Thursday, and Oklahoma State followed with one of its own over No. 5 Florida. UCLA soared past Minnesota while No. 1 Oklahoma lived up to its top-seed hype to take down Alabama. With the first set of games behind them, these teams will prepare to face one another in the next round, while their counterparts will drop to the consolation bracket and fight for the chance to stay alive and compete for a title.
Here are the five biggest lessons we learned from watching the opening games in this year’s Women’s College World Series.
Oklahoma State is the lowest seed in the Women’s College World series, but the Cowgirls aren’t playing like it.
For a team that hasn’t won a Women’s College World Series game in over 20 years, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls walked on to the field in Oklahoma City with confidence and delivered an exhilarating performance that moved them forward in the championship bracket. The Pokes faced the SEC tournament champion Florida Gators as the under-seeded team but found themselves on the board early after a first-inning dinger from team captain Sam Show. And as the Oklahoma State pitcher later demonstrated, her show was just getting started. Florida fought back against the Cowgirls’ early surge, notching a run of its own on a home run from Jordan Roberts, but Show came back with more.
She hit another long ball in the sixth inning to give her team the go-ahead run, and then, on the mound, she stopped the Gators rallying attempts. Show held firm, not allowing another run after Florida’s first, and her heroics helped elevate Oklahoma State to its first Women’s College World Series win since 1998. She’s also the first pitcher in Women’s College World Series history to hit two home runs in this tournament, making some early history. Though Show may have been the only member of her team to earn a hit in the contest, but she was all they needed. Show and the Cowgirls will be back in action on Friday, and if they sent any message on Thursday, it’s this: that No. 13 seed does not define them.
Oklahoma City is the city of stars
Only the best of the best make it this far in the college softball season, and in this first round of games in the Women’s College World Series, the stars have come out to play. Two of the countries best hitters — Dejah Mulipola and Jessie Harper from Arizona — set the pace for Thursday’s games with home runs for the Wildcats, and their effort, combined with a single from Malia Martinez gave the Wildcats their first W. Harper led the nation in home runs heading into the tournament with 28, and she added to her total on Thursday night to solidify her dominance at the plate. Mulipola sat sixth nationally in the same statistic before the Women’s College World Series with just six runs less than her teammate, but she’s also powerful behind the plate, earning the distinction as the nation’s best catcher.
Oklahoma State then found its star power in Show, who stole the spotlight with her two home runs.
At the mound, UCLA’s top pitcher Rachel Garcia demonstrated her talents by striking out seven of Minnesota’s batters in another stellar performance. She also had scoring help from team home run leader Bubba Nickles as well as a three-run homer from teammate Aaliyah Jordan.
UCLA, Washington, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Alabama and Florida all smacked home runs in their first games, and with offense on the rise, the rest of this tournament is set to be wild and high-scoring, and at least so far, led by stars. These teams need their whole lineup to chase a title, but on Thursday, it was the statistical leaders that made their mark.
Arizona is the real deal
Led by Mulipola and Harper, the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats showed their grit and persistence against the surging No. 3 Washington Huskies, taking the W in extra innings 3-1. The last time these two teams faced each other, Washington swept the Wildcats in Tucson, an outcome that Arizona made sure to reverse on the big stage. Washington, after the regular season sweep, carried that momentum through their next eight games, only to fall to the same team they dominated less than a month ago. This time, it’s Arizona’s show.
The history of Arizona softball — eight national championships, 23 Women’s College World Series appearances, 11 conference championships — defines the program, but for this team, the tournament is just about picking up wins. The Wildcats haven’t been in the Women's College World Series since 2010, meaning none of the current members of this squad have experienced the excitement of the tournament before, but despite their inexperience, the team is taking it all in, together.
"It's our first time here; there's butterflies everywhere," senior pitcher Taylor McQuillin said to Arizona Athletics after the game. "Our team's motto is 'One Team, One Heartbeat.' It's ok to go out and be a little nervous."
Nerves or not, this team has now stopped one of the biggest Pac-12 rivals it faced this year. And now, another awaits in the form of UCLA. After stopping Washington, the road to another title is still paved for Arizona, but it’s about to get a little bumpier.
The No. 1 Sooners looked beatable in their narrow victory over Alabama
First came Wisconsin in the regionals, then came Alabama in the Women’s College World Series. The No. 1 Sooners ended their 41-game winning streak nearly two weeks ago against the Badgers, and Thursday night, Oklahoma nearly took another loss against the No. 8 Crimson Tide. Oklahoma took the initial 1-0 lead in the first inning after hits from Sydney Romero, Fale Aviu and an RBI from Caleigh Clifton, but Alabama followed with a run of its own in the third. One more run from both teams tied the game 2-2 with extra innings looking possible. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Nicole Mendes found a pitch she liked. The junior hammered a triple deep into the outfield to run in Raegan Rogers and give her team the final lead of the night.
The Oklahoma bench, with newfound energy and spirit, rallied behind the plate, cheering in Rogers as the senior ran across home plate. The Sooners needed just three more outs to secure their spot in the championship bracket, and they sailed through the top of seventh to earn just that. The Sooners, the No. 1 seed that Alabama challenged, survived again, and as a reward, they’ll face in-state rival Oklahoma State in the next game in their quest fo their third Women’s College World Series title in five years.
The consolation bracket is going to be a battle
Minnesota, Washington, Alabama and Florida have one more shot. Two teams will end their seasons on Saturday while two more will compete for the chance at national glory. The championship bracket is set, and those four teams no doubt have nerves and adrenaline pumping through them, but the consolation bracket, that’s where the intensity is twice as high.
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Minnesota suffered its loss on Thursday by more runs that its three consolation counterparts combined, and the Gophers will look to hold on to its historic season with a win in the consoles. The Gophers take on Washington, a powerful Pac-12 program with championship experience, while Minnesota will take the field again in just its first Women’s College World Series appearance in program history. This is a matchup between a legacy team and one on the rise, with the winner advancing and the loser flying home.
Florida and Washington each battled closely fought games in the first round, dropping 2-1 and 3-1 to Oklahoma State and Arizona respectively. The Huskies took the game to extra innings, while the Gators staged a late seventh inning comeback with the hopes of scoring a tying run. Both teams will now look to take that same fighting spirit to the next round and hold on.
These first round games have against demonstrated the parity in this year’s softball tournament and the immense talent spread across the eight teams that earned a right to play on this field in Oklahoma City. Action continues, and for one more day, all eight teams are still fighting for the same chance to hoist the championship trophy.