Oklahoma beat Florida State 3-1 Thursday night at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City to sweep the best-of-three championship series at the Women's College World Series. The Game 2 result extended the Sooners' NCAA-record winning streak to 53 in a row.
Oklahoma, which also beat the Seminoles in the 2021 WCWS championship series, joined the UCLA Bruins in 1988-90 as the only team to win three straight NCAA Division I softball championships.
The Seminoles got on the board first thanks to first baseman Mack Leonard's solo shot off Alex Storako in the fourth inning, marking Leonard's second hit in her last 30 at-bats. Florida State could have already been up had it not been for Oklahoma's Jayda Coleman, who robbed a three-run home run from third baseman Kalei Harding in the third inning with a leaping grab over the center field wall. (It was reminiscent of FSU's Kaley Mudge, who robbed a grand slam from Haley Lee in the Sooners' Game 1 win.)
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 9, 2023
The Sooners responded in the fifth inning with back-to-back homers from first baseman Cydney Sanders, the Arizona State transfer's fourth homer in the NCAA tournament, and another from shortstop Grace Lyons. It was only the second and third home run Florida State ace Kathryn Sandercock gave up in the postseason, respectively.
Oklahoma added an insurance run in the sixth inning with an RBI from Alynah Torres to put the Sooners up 3-1. Pitcher Jordy Bahl took over on the mound for Storako and retired all nine hitters she faced to secure the win.
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 9, 2023
"I don’t have a lot of words right now," Bahl said in an interview with ESPN on the field after the game. "...We stick together. It's not just one person who feels it, we all feel it. Sticking together is one of the toughest challenges this year."
Thursday's victory came after Oklahoma cruised past Florida State 5-0 in the the first game Wednesday. Bahl threw another postseason gem, allowing just two hits and striking out 10 in her complete game over seven innings. It was her fourth win in the Sooners' first four games in the WCWS and she hadn't allowed a run in 21⅔ innings entering Thursday. Kenzie Hansen powered the offense with an RBI double that plated Bahl to start the scoring in the fourth and later delivered another run with a single in the fifth.
Climbing the softball record books
Thursday's championship was the seventh overall for the Sooners since softball debuted as an NCAA sport in 1982, ranking third all time behind UCLA's 12 and eight by Arizona. Oklahoma has now won five of the past seven titles dating back to 2016 (not including the canceled 2020 season), with only Florida State in 2018 and UCLA in 2019 interrupting its run.
Oklahoma ends the 2023 season with a stunning 61-1 record – the Sooners' only loss this season was to Baylor, 4-3 on Feb. 19 – and further cements Patty Gasso as one of the greatest coaches in softball history. Gasso's seventh championship as head coach moved her into a tie for second all time with UCLA Hall of Fame coach Sharon Backus and one behind the all-time record held by Arizona Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea.
"What you feel right now from us is freedom, because it was absolutely suffocating as we're going along," Gasso told ESPN on the field after the game. "The expectations were overwhelming, but they handled it like champions and that’s why we are here right now."
Is a fourth title in a row in the offing in Norman?
Nothing in the world of sports is guaranteed, of course, but the Sooners will almost certainly enter the 2024 season, their last in the Big 12 before riding off to the SEC, as the odds-on favorites.
Most key contributors from this year’s squad, including Bahl and fellow hurler Nicole May, will be back. Sluggers Coleman and Tiare Jennings will also return in search of a four-peat. Of the few Sooners whose eligibility will be spent, the hardest to replace figures to be Lyons, a Gold Glove winning shortstop and vocal team leader. Pitcher Storako and utility player Lee will also move on, but Gasso will welcome another strong freshman class featuring four top-15 recruits.
Oklahoma joins NCAA dynasties
A fourth consecutive crown would be unprecedented in the sport, at least since the NCAA began administering women’s championships in 1982. It also would push the program closer to some of the biggest dynasties among major sports in Division I college athletics. A look at some of the significant titles streaks:
∎ No team has won three football national titles in a row since the AP poll was established in 1936. Minnesota does claim national titles between 1934-36. Georgia could win a third in a row this season after back-to-back College Football Playoff victories.
∎ UCLA won seven consecutive men's basketball championships from 1967-73, while Connecticut's women's basketball team won four in a row from 2013-16.
∎ Southern California baseball won five consecutive College World Series between 1970-74.
∎ North Carolina holds the mark with nine consecutive women's soccer championships from 1986-94 as part of Anson Dorrance's 21 overall titles. Virginia's men's program under Bruce Arena were champions from 1991-94.
∎ Maryland captured seven titles in a row in women's lacrosse from 1995-2001. Princeton, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins each have won three consecutive men's lacrosse championships with all of those coming last century.
∎ Iowa's run of nine men's wrestling titles in a row began in 1978. Coach Dan Gable would go on to win 15 championships. Penn State has two runs of four consecutive crowns under current coach Cael Sanderson.
Contributing: Ellen J. Horrow
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oklahoma wins WCWS, sweeps Florida State for 7th softball championship