A capacity crowd at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium and a nationwide network audience looked on as Oklahoma beat Auburn in a best-of-three series for the D1 Softball National Championship in Oklahoma City last night.
The series opened as expected, with a pitching and defensive battle in the first game capped by a defensive gem from freshman Sooner Shay Knighten. With the game tied at two, Oklahoma's freshman phenom knocked down a smash from Tiger pinch-hitter Courtney Shea and gunned down what would have been the tying run in at the plate to give the Sooners a 3-2 win – their 31st straight.
Then in game two, the fans saw it all.
Sloppy play from the Tiger defense led to a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 Sooner lead after two innings. But being the championship-caliber team they are, the Tigers battled back in what turned out to be a long-ball riddled slugfest that included what may be the greatest defensive play in collegiate softball history. Senior Tigers left-fielder Taylor Howard vaulted above the wall to pull back what would have been a two-run dinger by Knighten. It was an absolute robbery of a hit that would’ve put the Sooners up a pair with just an inning left to play. Instead it stayed knotted at seven.
— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) June 8, 2016
The Tigers took the momentum generated on that play with them to the plate, loading the bases in the bottom half of the eighth to set the table for All-American Emily Carosone. And boy did she deliver. Carosone's walk-off grand slam blast over the wall in right-center gave the Tigers the 11-7 win and extended the series to a winner-take-all game three.
The rubber-match was ALL Paige Parker. The Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player pitched every inning of the postseason for the Sooners up until Game 2, when coach Patty Gasso made the tough decision to rest her star for the potential final game. Turns out it was a good call. Fully refreshed after her day off, Parker pitched the whole game and allowed just a single run – a Jade Rhodes home run in the fourth. She struck out five and walked one on 107 pitches en route to a 2-1 title-clinching victory.
OU scored both of their runs in the bottom of the first, when Auburn second baseman Emily Carosone misfired a throw to first on a Shay Knighten grounder, allowing Caleigh Clifton to cross the plate and put the Sooners on the board. A slow-bouncing infield single by Fale Aviu scored Knighten giving the Sooners their second run and that was all that Parker would need to earn the Sooners their third title.
Auburn loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but a Carosone strikeout followed by a textbook infield double play would end the inning without a Tiger crossing the dish, and the score would hold the rest of the way.
The Tigers finished the season with a program-best 58-12 record, an SEC Tournament Championship, and a school record nine NCAA Tournament wins.
The Sooners' championship season concluded with a 57-8 record, including wins in 32 of their final 33 contests.
— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) June 9, 2016