Oklahoma ready to defend national title against Florida

Oklahoma ready to defend national title against Florida

Published Jun. 5, 2017 2:33 p.m. ET

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Florida's pitching staff might finally have met its match in Oklahoma.

Florida hasn't allowed an earned run in three games at the Women's College World Series. The top-seeded Gators feature USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Kelly Barnhill, NFCA first-team All-American Delanie Gourley and an experienced option in Aleshia Ocasio.

Defending champion Oklahoma counters with Paige Parker, a second-team All-American who was the most outstanding player at last year's World Series, and Paige Lowary, who leads the nation with 10 saves and hits the mid-70s on the radar gun.

The best-of-three series between the programs that have split the past four national championships was set to begin Monday night.

"Both have got very good pitching staffs," Oregon coach Mike White said Sunday after his team lost to Oklahoma in the semifinals. "With Barnhill out there and Gourley, those two are very tough. They complement each other so well. So it's really going to be a low-scoring affair. It's probably going to come down to whoever makes some mistakes."

Barnhill (26-3), a member of the U.S. national team, won her first 21 games this season and leads the nation with a 0.34 earned run average. She didn't suffer her first loss until May. Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said the Sooners will need to be at their best against her because she throws hard and mixes her pitches well.

"She's done a fantastic job and very worthy of the player of the year award," Gasso said. "She led her team, although they have a great pitching staff. She's led her team here. We're going to have to be really good and very disciplined when we face her."

Gourley, also a member of the national team, was dominant in Florida's 5-2 semifinal win over Washington. She hasn't allowed an earned run since April 15 and ranks fourth nationally with a 0.64 ERA. She was the winning pitcher in the national championship clincher as a freshman in 2014.

"She's a rock," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "She's somebody that I just can't tell you how special of an individual -- I know we all have special players, and I've had special players, but none like Delanie Gourley before."

Ocasio is a member of Puerto Rico's national team who ranks sixth nationally with a 1.13 ERA. She has not pitched yet at this year's World Series.

Parker (26-5) has never lost at the World Series. Last year, she won all five games to lead the Sooners to the national title and is 8-0 overall.

"I find it pretty amazing," Gasso said. "I don't know when we might see another pitcher do what she did from throwing every inning of every regional, super regional and College World Series game except the second championship game."

Lowary, a transfer from Missouri, threw consistently above 72 mph in two innings of perfect relief Sunday against Oregon, hitting as high as 75 mph.

"I think adrenaline just kicks in and just trying to hit my spot," she said. "I wasn't really concerned with speed, but happened to be that fast, I guess."

Last year, Parker didn't pitch the second game of the championship series against Auburn. The Sooners lost, and Gasso questioned her decision to rest Parker. With Lowary (15-3), a capable starter, there won't be as much pressure on Parker this year.

"Now having options and having a little bit deeper staff takes a lot of stress off of Paige and keeps her mind a little bit freer and strong, and I think our team feels that, as well," Gasso said.