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Oklahoma looks to win three straight NCAA softball titles

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Oklahoma’s Kinzie Hansen prepares to bat during an NCAA college softball game against Hofstra on May 19, 2023, in Norman, Okla.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Oklahoma’s Kinzie Hansen prepares to bat during an NCAA college softball game against Hofstra on May 19, 2023, in Norman, Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY >> Oklahoma could become the first college softball program since UCLA more than 30 years ago to win three consecutive national championships.

UCLA won titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Since then, teams have won back-to-back seven times. Oklahoma went for three after winning it all in 2016 and 2017 but lost in the semifinals in 2018.

The top-seeded Sooners (56-1) are expected to end the drought. They enter the World Series on an NCAA Division I-record 48-game win streak while leading the nation in scoring, batting average, earned run average and fielding percentage. They open Thursday against No. 9 seed Stanford (45-13).

The Sooners boast two USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 10 finalists in their batting lineup — Tiare Jennings and Jayda Coleman.

And then, there’s Kinzie Hansen. She hit a game-tying three-run homer when Oklahoma was down to its last strike against Clemson in Super Regionals last Saturday. Two innings later, Jennings hit the game-winning homer in the dramatic comeback 8-7 victory that clinched the World Series berth and the record for longest win streak.

Oklahoma’s pitching staff includes Jordy Bahl — another Top 10 finalist — and Alex Storako, a transfer from Michigan who was the first player chosen in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft last month. Nicole May, a third starter, has the team’s best earned run average and plenty of World Series experience.

In other opening matchups on Thursday, it will be No. 4 Tennessee (49-8) vs. No. 5 Alabama (45-20) in a matchup of Southeastern Conference rivals, No. 3 Florida State (55-9) against No. 6 Oklahoma State (46-14) and No. 7 Washington vs. No. 15 Utah in a Pac-12 matchup.

The World Series starts with a double-elimination format, with the final two teams playing a best-of-three series for the title.

FABULOUS FRESHMAN

Stanford’s NiJaree Canady could be a major roadblock to Oklahoma’s title hopes.

The freshman has a 16-1 record with a nation-leading 0.48 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings.

The Sooners also could face Alana Vawter, who is 20-8 with a 1.83 ERA.

RUNS IN THE FAMILY

Tennessee outfielder Kiki Milloy, daughter of former NFL star Lawyer Milloy, does it all.

She’s hitting .420, leads the nation with 25 home runs and ranks among the nation’s top base stealers with 39. She has dynamic big-play ability in the outfield, too.

Lawyer Milloy was a safety who won a Super Bowl title with the New England Patriots and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

WELCOME BACK

Utah coach Amy Hogue has the Utes back in the World Series for the first time since 1994, when she was a star second baseman still known by her maiden name, Amy Timmel.

Hogue is in her 12th year at Utah, and the Utes hadn’t gotten beyond two trips to Super Regionals under her watch until now.

FAMILIAR PITCHERS

Florida State’s Kathryn Sandercock and Alabama’s Montana Fouts both have made past World Series all-tournament teams as pitchers.

Both appear ready to add more accolades.

Sandercock made it in 2021, when the Seminoles lost to Oklahoma in the national championship series. This year, she threw a perfect game in the decisive 1-0 regional win over South Carolina and got a win and a save to win the super regional against Georgia.

Fouts made the All-Tournament team in 2019 and 2021. This season, she missed Alabama’s regional while recovering from a hyperextended left knee, but came back to claim both wins against Northwestern in Super Regionals.

YOU AGAIN?

All four Thursday games are rematches.

Washington took two of three from Utah in April in Seattle. Oklahoma beat Stanford 10-1 in February in Irvine, California. Tennessee took two of three against Alabama in March in Knoxville, Tennessee, then beat the Crimson Tide in the SEC Tournament. Oklahoma State won two of three against Florida State in March in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

COACHING TREE BLOOMS

Several of Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso’s former assistants are coaching at the World Series.

Gasso’s son, D.J., was a graduate assistant for her in 2019 and 2020 and now is assistant head coach for Utah.

Paige Parker is an assistant coach for Utah. She pitched for Gasso’s 2016 and 2017 national championship teams and was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 World Series. She was on Gasso’s staff as a volunteer assistant in 2020.

Oklahoma State head coach Kenny Gajewski was an assistant for Gasso in 1995 and spent a decade as maintenance director for Oklahoma’s softball and baseball teams. His Cowgirls are making their fourth straight trip to Oklahoma City.

YOUNG GUN

Oklahoma State’s Tallen Edwards skipped her final season at Southmoore High School (Moore, Oklahoma) to play college ball early, and she has been up to the task. The 18-year-old true freshman has started 55 of the Cowgirls’ 60 games and is hitting .329 with 26 RBIs.

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