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D1Softball’s way-too-early 2024 Women’s College World Series predictions

Coming off a national championship three-peat it should come as no surprise that the Oklahoma Sooners are expected back in the Women’s College World Series in 2024.

Looking ahead to 2024, D1Softball issued its way-too-early predictions (subscription required) for which teams make next year’s WCWS.

Of course, Oklahoma is expected to be in the mix.

Even without Bahl, the Sooners aren’t going away. Oklahoma still brings back a lot of talent from its 2023 roster. Every major contributor returns for the back-to-back-to-back champions aside from Bahl, Alex Storako, Haley Lee and Grace Lyons. Kierston Deal’s role will likely increase and become the second arm alongside Nicole May. Expect the Sooners to also add another big-time pitcher through the portal like they have done in the past few seasons. Jocelyn Erickson or Sophia Nugent can fill the designated player role. Who plays shortstop is a big question, but there are plenty of candidates – and potential transfer additions – that could take over. – Brady Vernon, D1Softball

Nugent entered the portal, but Oklahoma has options on the bench to  replicate Haley Lee and Grace Lyons’ production from 2023.

From their No. 1 scoring lineup, the Sooners return everyone but Grace Lyons in the batting order. Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings lead the way for a squad hoping to do what no team has done: Win four in a row.

But they’ll have to do so without staff ace Jordy Bahl, who entered the transfer portal on Monday after two years with the Sooners.

Still, Oklahoma has Nicole May, who was fantastic in 2023, finishing with a sub-1.00 ERA. They’ll also put more on Kierston Deal’s plate after she  showed well in relief in 2023.

Here’s who D1Softball is predicting to be back in Oklahoma City in 2024.

Oklahoma Sooners

June 8, 2023; Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Sooners catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) hits a ground ball in the fourth inning against the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaw/teams/florida-st/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Florida State Seminoles;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Florida State Seminoles</a> during game two of the Women’s College World Series finals at OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex. <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaw/teams/oklahoma/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Oklahoma;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Oklahoma</a> won the game 3-1 and the national championship. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma Sooners have work to do to replicate their pitching rotation’s dominance without Jordy Bahl. Nicole May and Kierston Deal will be looked upon for more innings, and the lineup will be asked to be better to make up for the loss of Bahl. Patty Gasso will not go into next season without one or two significant splashes in the transfer portal.

Stanford Cardinal

When you have arguably the best pitcher in softball, you have a chance. Stanford’s NiJaree Canady was brilliant in the NCAA Tournament and Women’s College World Series. She kept the Sooners in check for much of her two outings before the Sooners broke through for wins.

Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee’s Kiki Milloy slaps hands with coach Karen Weekly as she rounds the bases during the NCAA softball Knoxville regional final against <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaw/teams/indiana/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Indiana;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Indiana</a> on Sunday. Saul Young / USA TODAY NETWORK

Arguably the biggest snub from the national player of the year finalists was Tennessee Volunteers outfielder Kiki Milloy. She was dominant at the plate, hitting over .400 and leading the nation in home runs. She was fantastic in center field as well. With Milloy in the leadoff spot and a talented roster, the Lady Vols should return to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma State Cowgirls

Oklahoma State’s Kelly Maxwell (28) pitches during a Women’s College World Series softball game between the Oklahoma State University Cowgirls (OSU) and the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaw/teams/florida/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Florida Gators;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Florida Gators</a> at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Saturday, June 4, 2022. Oklahoma State won 2-0. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma State’s pitching staff will help the Cowgirls be a difficult out in any format. Their slump in May was rectified by a strong June. They’ll look to be more consistent in 2024 with a wealth of talent returning such as Rachel Beker.

Texas Longhorns

June 4, 2022; Oklahoma City; Texas Longhorns left fielder Lauren Burke (00) bunts during the second inning of the NCAA Women’s College World Series game against the Oklahoma Sooners at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. Oklahoma won 7-2. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
June 4, 2022; Oklahoma City; Texas Longhorns left fielder Lauren Burke (00) bunts during the second inning of the NCAA Women’s College World Series game against the Oklahoma Sooners at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. Oklahoma won 7-2. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

A young team during the 2023 season, the Texas Longhorns had some big wins to get to the super regionals before falling to the Tennessee Volunteers.

Clemson Tigers

There were many arguments about this Clemson team being underseeded after the way they nearly pushed Oklahoma to a Game 3 in the super regionals. If not for Kinzie Hansen’s heroics to tie and Tiare Jennings go-ahead home run in extra innings, that Game 3 might have happened. The Tigers also boast one of the best players in the game, Valerie Cagle.

Duke Blue Devils

Duke made an incredible run to the super regionals despite a young roster. It also ran into NiJaree Canady, the hottest pitcher in the tournament not named Jordy Bahl.

Baylor Bears

Baylor outfielder McKenzie Wilson (21) looks at Oklahoma State pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl (8) as she pitches during a college softball game between the Oklahoma State Cowgirls (OSU) and the Baylor Bears at Cowgirl Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. NATHAN J FISH/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK
Baylor outfielder McKenzie Wilson (21) looks at Oklahoma State pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl (8) as she pitches during a college softball game between the Oklahoma State Cowgirls (OSU) and the Baylor Bears at Cowgirl Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. NATHAN J FISH/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Baylor can keep Dariana Orme fresh throughout the season, the Bears will be a threat in tournament play. As good as the Bears can be, it feels like a bit of a stretch for four Big 12 teams to make the WCWS.

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Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire