OKLAHOMA CITY — When Oklahoma softball centerfielder Jayda Coleman leaped at the warning track of USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex, she braced for a crash with the outfield wall. Yet she kept her concentration and came down with a ball off the bat of Florida State's Kalei Harding as it was about to go over the wall for a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning.
Maybe No. 3 FSU (58-11) lives on to play another day against No. 1 Oklahoma (61-1), this time with a chance of denying the two-time defending national champs a three-peat and holding the trophies itself.
Softball is a game of inches and Seminole head coach Lonni Alameda is all too aware of that.
Oklahoma beat FSU 3-1 to clinch its third consecutive WCWS title.
"(If) Coleman doesn't rob that home run, who knows? It's a game of inches," Alameda said. "If (Mack Leonard)'s ball is two inches on Game 1 down the right-field line, it's a different game, too. I think the softball gods weren't with us this time around."
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 9, 2023
The Seminoles ran into a team with a date with destiny Wednesday and Thursday in the WCWS. For every bit as good as FSU was this season, Oklahoma was just better. This is why the Sooners ended the season with an NCAA-record 53-game winning streak.
It's why they picked up their seventh national title since 2000 for the Sooners, the fifth in the last seven years and the sixth in the last 10.
FSU finished the season with 58 wins - the most since the 2018 season when the Seminoles won the national championship. The Seminoles have eclipsed 50 wins seven times since 2014.
"It is incredibly hard," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of the three-peat. "I don't know how to explain it. I just can tell you the way I feel right now is free because the expectation is overwhelming, the pressure is overwhelming. They all have each other to laugh with. I'm standing here by myself, so that's why you're hearing my voice do this.
"I know what they're feeling. I know what I'm feeling. It's very difficult. It's extremely rewarding."
Oklahoma's constant pressure on offense
One day after not using her ace in Game 1, Alameda turned to her redshirt senior Kathryn Sandercock in Thursday's deciding game.
It was another chance for Sandercock to add to her already impressive FSU resume.
Sandercock passed a major test in the third inning when she loaded the bases with no outs. She induced two groundball outs and recorded a strikeout to get out of the jam and keep the game scoreless at that point.
"Yeah, incredible lineup. Great team. It's tough, the bases loaded, no outs, all the momentum was on their side," Sandercock said. "We were able to get out of it with no runs. What an awesome moment. What an amazing defense. That was so, so fun."
Unfortunately for the Seminoles, while Sandercock performed well for the first four innings and for six innings overall, it wasn't enough against an OU offense that attacks one through nine.
It came just a half-inning after Leonard gave the Seminoles their first run and lead of the series in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"I mean, they're tough outs. They keep you on your toes the entire time, which is great," Sandercock said. "For me as an athlete, I'm very competitive and I've always wanted to put my skills to the test. Everything that I've worked on for the past five years, showing up today. Being able to put that to the test against one of the hardest lineups in college softball was such a fun challenge.
"I gave up a couple solo shots, they got another run across. They're a good ballclub. It's tough to face them.
"But I'm really proud of myself and really proud of the team, just what we were able to do today, the fight we showed, how we stayed in it, stayed in it. That's what we've been saying all season long, stay in it.
"It's challenging, but it's what you want as an athlete, yeah."
Sandercock finished off her FSU career with a complete game effort. She allowed three earned runs on eight hits to go along with three strikeouts and a walk.
Prior to Thursday, Sandercock had thrown 36 innings in the postseason with 24 strikeouts, complete with two shutouts and one perfect game during the run.
She leaves FSU as the all-time appearance leader (184), career saves (18) and saves in a single season (10). She also finishes with 107 career wins.
"We laid it out there. I'm really proud of them," Alameda said. "It feels really good to know that you bounce back and you're able to do what we did. Kat led us the whole way there. It was pretty special to see that and end her career there."
Jayda Coleman's home run robbery
Coleman's home run robbery of Harding isn't something that's new for the OU star outfielder. She had a similar catch in last year's World Series victory over Texas.
Same stage, same result.
Jayda Coleman robs home runs in the Women's College World Series -- less than a year apart. pic.twitter.com/NA6jZrpt4F
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2023
The catch potentially changed the course of the game. In a scoreless game and with FSU holding a ton of momentum after Sandercock got out of the bases-loaded situation.
Harding then took a pitch from starter Alex Storako and rocketed it to center field. For an FSU team that had gone 11 scoreless innings against the Sooners, the moment could have changed the game.
"Yeah, immediately I was like, Go get it. Immediately run to the fence," Coleman said.
"But, yeah, it's really exciting to make those plays. I practice them all the time. But like I say every single time, the best thing out of those plays is watching your teammates react and watching them just be so happy for you.
"They know how hard we work. I know how hard they work. So when things like those plays come into play on this big stage, I mean, it's so joyful to watch."
Reach Ehsan Kassim at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Ehsan_Kassim. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State softball loses WCWS to Oklahoma after home run robbery