How Shay Knighten's pregame speech helped OU softball en route to WCWS title

For the first time since 2022, the Sooners were preparing to play for their season.

The OU softball team found itself in an elimination game against Florida in the Women's College World Series semifinals on Tuesday. A loss would've meant the end of a three-year reign as national champions. The end of numerous careers for a legendary senior class.

The stakes were high. But when OU's players gathered at the team hotel on the morning of the game, they were greeted by a surprise guest.

It was Shay Knighten. The former softball star won two national titles during her time with OU (2016-19), and she delivered a pregame speech to get the Sooners prepared.

"I just told them what it's like," Knighten said. "It's hard. ... But just go out there and do what you do. God is behind you. He's all around you. So just take your abilities and be free with them."

More: OU softball sweeps Texas, captures record fourth consecutive WCWS championship

The Sooners did exactly that.

OU earned a 6-5 win over Florida to advance to a championship series on Texas. And on Thursday, the Sooners secured their fourth straight national title with an 8-4 win over the Longhorns.

It's a storybook ending for OU, whose players kept Knighten's message in mind as they completed their championship run.

"I will never forget that meeting for the rest of my life," senior Jayda Coleman said. "(Knighten) has been through this before. Anytime we are on the field, if we want to look up to her, she can give us 30 seconds of encouragement. I use that very, very often, ever since she told me that. It was just a surreal moment."

Coleman says she has looked up to Knighten since the seventh grade. It's fitting, considering Coleman gave her best Knighten impression to send the Sooners to the championship series.

One of Knighten's most memorable moments with OU came against Florida during Game 1 of a 2017 WCWS finals. She hit a three-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to help the Sooners earn a 7-5 win.

And when OU found itself tied at 5-5 with Florida in the bottom of the eighth inning on Thursday, Coleman mirrored that moment by delivering a walk-off home run.

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"Going around the bases, I lost it, just started crying," Coleman said. "It was incredible. Incredible feeling."

Coleman's heroics set up a Red River Rivalry rematch between OU and Texas in championship series.

The Longhorns were the No. 1 seed, eager to win their first national title in program history. They also earned a 2-1 series win over the Sooners in the regular season.

But Knighten wasn't concerned about any that. Not after seeing the competitive fire in the Sooners' eyes when she delivered her speech earlier in the week.

"It looked familiar," Knighten said. "That's the look that the teams that I was on that won had. Just the look in the eye of, 'I'm not getting denied no matter what anybody has to say or what the score is. If we still have outs left on the board, we're going to win.' I could feel that from them. There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to win it.

"I didn't care if it went to a Game 3, but I wanted it done in two."

More: How OU softball's four-year seniors helped 'create the magic' of a four-peat

Knighten got her wish.

OU swept Texas in the best-of-three championship series, and Knighten watched both games from the stands at Devon Park. She could be seen cheering as the Sooners hoisted the championship trophy for the fourth straight year.

OU is the first team in college softball history to ever complete a four-peat. It's an accomplishment that's almost indescribable, but it's only right that Knighten tried to put it into words.

"It's hard enough to win one," Knighten said. "It's harder to win two. To go for three, I don't even know because I've never been there. But to do what they've done, it's just hard. I think it's something that they've worked so hard for. They're passionate about this game, and you can tell that their hard work has paid off."

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: How Shay Knighten's speech helped OU softball en route to WCWS title