OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s youngsters have grown up quickly, and now they are on the verge of a national title.
Freshman Shay Knighten had two hits, including a home run, and Oklahoma defeated LSU 7-3 on Sunday night to earn the right to play for the Women’s College World Series championship.
Oklahoma’s lineup includes four freshmen and three sophomores, and sophomore Paige Parker pitched a complete game victory for the Sooners (55-7), who claimed their school-record 30th straight win. Those rising stars will face Auburn in a best-of-three series starting Monday.
"I don’t even know if we understand what is happening tomorrow," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "We’re just playing, and we’re playing hard. They won’t stop. They never stop. The idea of us getting to play for a national championship is pretty surreal right now."
Auburn hasn’t been to the championship series, but coach Clint Myers won two national titles at Arizona State. Now, he’s got another shot in just his third year at Auburn.
"I believed in the people I work with, that if they buy in, which we’ve proven that they have, and if they work and commit, great things happen," Myers said after his Tigers eliminated Florida State on Sunday. "I mean, we’ve still got softball to play, but having the opportunity to play for a national championship is something that we’ve talked about since we got there, and again, it’s them buying in."
Conference pride will be on the line as well. The Southeastern Conference has won three of the last four titles, with Big 12 member Oklahoma’s 2013 title being the lone interruption. Half of this year’s world series field was SEC teams. Myers was pulling for LSU against Oklahoma.
"We’re on record as saying that the SEC is the toughest conference," Myers said.
Oklahoma won national titles in 2000 and 2013, but the Sooners missed the WCWS last year. When the Sooners lost career home run leader Lauren Chamberlain to graduation, many expected a drop off.
The youngsters had high expectations and wanted to compete for a national title right away.
"It’s kind of unbelievable that we are," freshman Caleigh Clifton said. "Everyone sees us as freshmen, everyone sees us as underdogs. Since we are freshmen, nobody thought we would be here, especially with the team we lost last year. It’s just kind of crazy. We’re excited for it."
The Sooners played like poised veterans to pull away from LSU. The score was tied at 3 in the fourth when Erin Miller, one of two seniors in Oklahoma’s lineup, singled to knock in two runs. Miller scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-3, and Knighten’s solo homer in the sixth bumped Oklahoma’s lead to 7-3. Parker and the defense handled the rest.
"It was probably one of the hardest-fought wins we’ve had, just because of the intensity and knowing what we’re facing with a team like LSU," Gasso said.
The Sooners will have a home-field advantage against Auburn, being just 25 miles from campus.
"I trust that the Sooner Nation will come out and help us through this because it’s not going to be easy," Gasso said. "But the crowd and the fans and the families have been just on cloud nine with us, and we’re just having a lot of fun with these guys."