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Kaitlyn Schmidt | | February 19, 2023

The college softball mercy rule, explained

Watch the final out from Oklahoma softball's 2022 WCWS title

College softball is often characterized by the thrill of long rallies and lots of runs. The high-scoring elements of the game helped prompt the "run-ahead" rule, allowing teams to clinch a win early if they have taken a significant-enough lead against the competition. In 2022, national champion Oklahoma won via run-ahead rule 41 times out of 62 games.

🔴 Oklahoma softball: The all-time starting lineup

Let’s explore the specifics of college softball's run-ahead rule:

What is the current run-ahead rule in NCAA DI softball, for the regular season?

If one team is up by eight or more runs after five or more equal innings, the plate umpire may declare the run-ahead rule. These complete innings must be played unless the home team reaches the eight-run lead while at bat — so technically, the shortest a game could go is four-and-a-half innings. If the visiting team reaches the eight-run limit in the fifth, or any inning after, the home team must be given the opportunity to bat in the bottom half of the inning.

What is the run-ahead rule for the NCAA DI softball postseason?

The run-ahead rule remains the same in the NCAA tournament and Women's College World Series, with the exception of the WCWS championship series.

How the WCWS works

What is the run-ahead rule in the WCWS final?

In the Women's College World Series best-of-three championship series, the respective NCAA divisional softball committees get the chance to remove the run-ahead rule for the championship games between the final two teams in the series. This decision must be formally declared before the start of the tournament.

For example, in the first game in the 2022 WCWS final, Oklahoma stunned Texas with a 16-1 win. In any other scenario, the game would’ve been over after the fifth inning, when the Sooners were already winning 14-1. However, the run-ahead rule exception in the WCWS finals allowed the teams to continue playing a full seven innings.

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Division I
Softball Championship
June 1-9, 2023
USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium | Oklahoma City, OK

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