Alabama Tops Oklahoma to Reach the WCWS

Alabama Tops Oklahoma to Reach the WCWS

If you happened to watch the championship game of the NCAA Softball Regional in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, you can understand why fans love Division I softball. Two outstanding teams, Alabama and Oklahoma, battled tooth and nail to the end to decide a berth for the Women's College World Series, beginning next Thursday in Oklahoma City.

Maybe it was the first time you had watched Division I softball. You picked a dandy because OU and Alabama are two of the best playing the game. In fact, each has won a national championship in recent years, OU in 2013 and Alabama in 2012. And, oh yes, OU was runner-up in 2012.

In the end, Alabama won when Marsia Runyon hit a grand slam homer off OU lefty Paige Parker in the bottom of the sixth inning, turning a 3-1 OU lead into a 5-3 Alabama win.

OU fell behind early 1-0 on an RBI single by catcher Chaunsey Bell in the fourth inning, scoring Haylie McCleney, who had doubled before her. After the run, OU slugger Lauren Chamberlain took matters into her own hands and twice hit homers off Alabama freshman Alexis Osorio, who allowed five hits, walked five and struck out three in getting her second win of the day against OU. She beat the Sooners, 2-0, earlier to force the if necessary game.

Chamberlain went two-for-three in her final game as a Sooner and ended her career with a record 95 home runs with 23 this season. She finished with a .399 batting average and an NCAA career record slugging percentage of .960, breaking the former record of .945 by Stacey Nuveman, former UCLA slugger and now an associate head coach at San Diego State.

Behind 1-0 entering the top of the fifth, OU senior Callie Parsons  hit a chopper to short that was misplayed into an error by Danae Hays with Chamberlain due up. The count went to 2-2 before Chamberlain unloaded a roping homer over the left field fence. OU loaded the bases in the inning but couldn't dent the scoreboard as a foul out and a ground out left the Sooners ahead by one.

Alabama, however, came back and answered in the sixth inning to secure its 10th trip to the Women's College World Series. This is just the 14th time in the history of the Super Regional round that a team has come back from a game one loss to win games two and three. Alabama (47-13) accomplished this feat previously in 2011, falling in game one to Stanford before rebounding with wins in games two and three.

With one out, Jadyn Spencer singled through the left side. After a walk by Bell, senior Georgia Casey caught a liner at second for the second out. Danae Hays was then hit by a pitch to fill the bases, bringing Runyon to the plate.

The scenario was a replay from the ending of game one when Paige Parker fanned Runyon swinging with the bases full and the Sooners leading 5-2. Game three would have a different ending though as Runyon ripped the first pitch she saw to right field for a go-ahead grand slam.  She was hitless in the Super Regional in 13 trips to the plate before the slam.

Parker ended up suffering the loss for the Sooners, despite being a workhorse in the circle. She threw all 20 innings during the Super Regional, throwing 316 pitches in all. She finished a remarkable freshman season by posting a 28-7 record.

It was the final game in the career of Chamberlain, Casey, Parsons and fellow seniors Shelby Pendley and Jessica Vest. The five players ended their careers with an unprecedented four Big 12 championships, three trips to the Women’s College World Series, a cumulative record of 211-36 (.854) and one national championship.

Almost 4,000 people (3,940) watched these two games and they indeed got their money's worth. The problem was that both teams deserved to be in Oklahoma City for the College World Series, not just one of them.

OU, which was seeking its fifth consecutive trip to the World Series, finished the season 49-9 under head coach Patty Gasso, in her 21st season.

"Whether we win or lose, we give the glory to God and follow the path," Gasso said. "We gave everything we had and I'm so proud of this team. When we saw Alabama pop up on the screen (during the selection show), we knew that all we could ask is that we fight, fight, fight and these guys did that.

"We're blessed to have the opportunity and we thank everybody here who was so hospitable and helped us feel comfortable and appreciated while we were here. That's all I can ask from this team - they gave all they had and more. I could not be more proud of their efforts."

If you never had seen Division I softball before, you too could be proud of what you watched, either in person or on television. It was Division I softball at its best and the talented players of both teams give their best and everything they had to determine one of the Elite Eight in Oklahoma.

It doesn't get any better than that, except maybe at the College World Series, and all of those games will be televised live by ESPN, so you  get another chance to watch the best of Division I softball and the national championship on the line. By then, you might become a fan and find out why so many people have a passion for Division I softball.