After chaotic first inning, Meghan King restores order and pitches FSU to its first national title
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Standing in the circle with two outs in the seventh inning, Meghan King flung the ball toward the plate. The ball ricocheted off the bat of Taylor Van Zee and skipped along the ground. King took a step toward the ball; the crowd had gone quiet and she felt like everything was moving in slow motion. This was the moment, her moment. And all she could think about was how thankful she was for all those reps of pitcher fielding practice so that she wouldn't screw this up.
King picked up the ball and threw it to first, getting the final out of the Women's College World Series to give Florida State an 8-3 victory over Washington and its first softball national championship. It is also the first for the ACC.
It was a clean ending to a game that began as a comedy of errors Tuesday. Florida State, which had looked so collected the night before, was reeling in the first inning. Van Zee started it all with a leadoff hit off King. Then came a passed ball, a sacrifice bunt, a bad throw, a miscue in center field on a pop fly, and a line drive and grounder that drove in runs. When the dust settled, Washington was up 3-0.
But what could have been the beginning of the end for FSU only put the team back in a familiar position. The infield huddled in the dugout around the watercooler and busted out in laughter. Coach Lonni Alameda joked with her players, saying, "This is perfect because we're the Cardiac Kids and we need to be down in order to come back. We're going to score some runs. We'll be all right."
Not one of the Seminoles had any doubt. Why would they? Although they came into the game with a 1-0 series lead -- a position FSU had not been in all postseason long as it survived six elimination games -- they have shown that they are most comfortable, and lethal, with their backs against the wall. Perhaps the only way they could win while ahead was to fall behind.
"Of course we would go down three runs," King said. "The fact that everyone just kept fighting and laughed it off was really awesome."
The comeback began in earnest just a few moments later when catcher Anna Shelnutt, dubbed "Postseason Anna," smashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. It was her second home run in as many nights.
Then it was King, a redshirt junior, who returned to the circle and proceeded to pitch six scoreless innings. After giving up two hits in the first inning, she gave up just another three the rest of the night. The FSU bats did their jobs, extending the lead to 8-3, but it was King who shut down Washington's offense to secure the victory.
"Nobody believed in us; everybody doubted us," most outstanding player Jessie Warren said. "I couldn't be more proud of this team for making history."
King's tournament ERA of 0.20 ranks as the lowest in Women's College World Series history. In 34⅓ innings, she allowed just one earned run, in the first inning of Tuesday's game. While discussion all tournament long focused on Paige Parker, Kelly Barnhill and Rachel Garcia, King turned in what can only be described as one of the greatest WCWS performances of all time.
Her focus and consistency -- and her ability to shake off Tuesday's rocky start -- lifted Florida State (58-12) to a national championship few thought possible. With its sweep of Washington (52-10), Florida State became the third team in the 37-year history of the Women's College World Series to lose its WCWS opener and still win the title. -- Katie Barnes
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The night belonged to Anna Shelnutt. Not only did the Florida State catcher hit the home run Monday that gave the Seminoles a 1-0 victory over Washington in Game 1 of the championship series, but she also had the best view of one of the greatest defensive plays all Women's College World Series long.
Throughout the postseason, the Seminoles have had to fight from behind, and now they find themselves ahead, a game away from the program's first national championship.
In the top of the sixth inning, with the game scoreless, Shelnutt sliced through the tension by sending a solo shot over the fence in center field. It was her sixth home run of the year.
"Everybody battling earlier in the game is what got me that one pitch that I could drive out," Shelnutt said.
The sophomore's homer remained the lone run on the board when the game reached the bottom of the seventh inning.
Jessie Warren kept it that way.
Washington outfielder Trysten Melhart, who made jaws drop earlier in the tournament for twice robbing Oklahoma's Shay Knighten of hits, attempted to bunt with a runner on first an nobody out. But turnabout is fair play, especially in the world of sports.
Warren charged from third and dove to make the full-extension grab. From her knees, Warren then threw a strike to first to turn the double play and thwart a brewing Washington rally.
"My first instinct when she hit the ball, I saw it had like 3 feet under it and I was like, 'Jessie's got that,' " Shelnutt said.
Later at the news conference, she turned to Warren and said: "I had total faith in you, dog."
So after Shelnutt's homer, Warren's gem and Meghan King's five-hitter, Florida State can clinch its first national championship with a victory in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
"Who knows what the end result will be tomorrow," Seminoles coach Lonni Alameda said. "But if we stay focused on the one pitch and what we need to do, the result will take care of itself." -- Katie Barnes
OKLAHOMA CITY -- When Kylee Hanson entered the game in the fifth inning against No. 3 UCLA on Thursday, she lasted only an inning. In that time, the Bruins scored six runs, five of them earned, on five hits to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 7-4 lead. It was a different story on Sunday evening, when Hanson gave the Seminoles five quality innings. She might have still given up five runs, but by that time, the Seminoles had already scored 12.
And against the odds, it is FSU, not UCLA, going to the final round of the Women's College World Series.
With their backs against the wall since falling into the losers bracket, the Seminoles never quit fighting. Florida State crushed the Bruins 12-6 in their second game of the day against the Bruins after topping them 3-1 in the first inning. FSU's two Sunday wins bring its total number of elimination-game victories this postseason to six, four in Oklahoma City. The Seminoles clawed all the way to the championship series when no one believed in them but themselves.
"We fight," said third baseman Jessie Warren, who hit one of four Florida State homers in the nightcap. "It's hard to beat us more than once. We don't stop fighting, we don't know how."
The only other team to win six postseason elimination games is UCLA in 1997 and in 1985. Fitting that the final test for the Seminoles, then, would be to beat UCLA twice for the right to play No. 5 Washington in a best-of-three series, especially since it was UCLA that beat FSU in the first place. Florida State's win makes it the fifth team to make the finals after losing on Day 1, and the first since Arizona in 2010.
Since Washington beat Oklahoma earlier in the day, the second game between the Bruins and Seminoles kicked off about an hour after the first one ended. This wasn't a problem for FSU, since the Seminoles had Hanson in reserve after starting Meghan King the first game. But for UCLA, what looked to be an iffy situation became a disaster.
Bruins ace and espnW player of the year Rachel Garcia, who pitched all six innings in the first game, pitched only one inning before being replaced by senior Selina Ta'amilo in the second. Ta'amilo gave up a home run and a double, lasting just three batters before Garcia returned to the circle. Garcia, however, didn't finish the inning after she gave up a home run. It was musical chairs for UCLA in the circle, and it was clear that the Bruins simply did not have the depth on this day.
"Having a 1-1 punch is huge for this time of year, but it's been huge for us all season," Seminoles coach Lonni Alameda said. "Kylee and Meghan had been outstanding. They've been the spark plug from this circle for this team."
Not having a suitable alternative to Garcia at the time when they desperately needed one ended up being the death knell to UCLA's season.
For the Seminoles, they're heading to the finals, a place that seemed impossible after UCLA beat them on Day 1. The Florida State players never counted themselves out, though, and that proved to be all the encouragement they needed.
"No one believed this, but this crew," Alameda said. "Very proud of this team and the history we're making."-- Katie Barnes
No. 6 Florida State 3, No. 3 UCLA 1
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Turnabout is fair play. It is also why there will be evening softball on semifinal Sunday of the Women's College World Series.
Florida State was knocked into the losers bracket on the opening day of the tournament by a late home run from UCLA. The Seminoles are on the brink of completing the long road back after freshman Elizabeth Mason's two-out, two-strike home run in the bottom of the sixth inning against national player of the year Rachel Garcia forced a winner-take-all game Sunday night.
Garcia gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead in the third inning with an RBI single, but the Seminoles kept giving themselves chances to get back in the game against her. They stranded one runner in the bottom of the third inning, two more in the fourth inning and one in the fifth inning. When the bottom of the sixth inning began with UCLA center fielder Bubba Nickles reaching above the outfield wall to keep a Dani Morgan fly ball from becoming a home run, it felt like Garcia's day to escape jams.
Then the No. 9 hitter in Florida State's order, who had five home runs in 136 at-bats entering the game and a strikeout among two more at-bats earlier Sunday, drove the ball over Nickles.
Now Garcia will presumably be asked to pitch both ends of a Sunday doubleheader for the second time this postseason. She won twice against Cal State Fullerton on the final day of a regional to help UCLA with its first of many great escapes. Florida State, by contrast, has a fresh Kylee Hanson after Meghan King went the distance against the Bruins. -- Graham Hays
No. 5 Washington 3, No. 4 Oklahoma 0
OKLAHOMA CITY -- This time Trysten Melhart didn't leave any doubt. This time she kept the ball firmly in her hands as she stood up. And as she sprinted toward the dugout. And as she crossed the lip of the infield. This time she didn't let it go until she spiked it in the pitching circle.
There were questions Thursday about whether or not Melhart actually completed a diving catch that played a prominent role in consigning Oklahoma to the losers bracket. There wasn't any question Sunday when she dove to catch Shay Knighten's liner and stranded the tying runs on base in the top of the fifth inning.
Just as there can't be many questions left about Washington's credentials after the Huskies beat the Sooners again, this time 3-0, to make sure college softball will have a new champion.
The spike that followed Melhart's catch Sunday was the punctuation mark on a game and a week in which pitching and defense carried Washington to the championship round of the Women's College World Series for the first time since its 2009 national championship.
This team's strength is pitching and defense, and it showed both in shutting out for the second time a team that had been shut out just once in its previous 42 World Series games.
"Our pitching staff, I think, prides themselves on not only momentum but achieving outs however we can get them," Huskies coach Heather Tarr said. "We're not so fragile that we have to strike everybody out. Obviously our defense speaks for itself in terms of creating energy behind each pitcher and having the ability to get outs any way possible. I think it gives the pitchers a lot of confidence.
Washington played to its strengths and made a semifinal statement with its pitching the last time it advanced beyond the semifinals in 2009. Needing one win against an opponent that needed to beat them twice, the Huskies started Danielle Lawrie in the opening game against Georgia. And Heather Tarr left her out there to throw all 164 pitches in a 9-8 loss. Then Lawrie went back out and threw 121 more pitches to win the second game of the day.
But in a nod to the different strengths of this team, and perhaps the changing face of the sport with regard to pitching philosophy, Tarr didn't start freshman Gabbie Plain on Sunday. Plain started and won each of Washington's first two games, but Taran Alvelo got the ball Sunday.
Alvelo's own history in the World Series came a year ago, when she had nothing left in the tank in a semifinal lost to Florida. This time, after battling an injury through the second half of the regular season and yielding to Plain for much of the first two games, she looked ready for the challenge. Just as Plain sent a message when she set the Sooners down in order in the top of the first inning Thursday, Alvelo did in this game -- on three fewer pitches than Plain used.
"I don't think it was so much that things were working for me," Alvelo said. "I think it was things were working for us as a team. And I knew what my part was and I knew I had to go out there and execute."
The Huskies have two aces. They have a defense that can make plays like Melhart made Thursday and Sunday. And not even the two-time defending champions could do anything about that.
Given the era in which these Sooners play, underscored by the strength of the field this week, their three-year run remains among the most impressive in college softball history. When UCLA won three in a row or when Arizona played for a championship five years in a row, those teams didn't have to come through a super regional round. They didn't have to play a best-of-three championship series, as the Sooners did to win their titles the past two seasons. And while the SEC bowed out of this postseason rather meekly, there weren't contenders from coast to coast.
Oklahoma had to deal with all of that in its run. And for a moment Saturday night, after winning two elimination games to reach the semifinals, it looked like momentum would carry the Sooners again.
That story proved no match for the Huskies, but it doesn't diminish what Oklahoma accomplished.
"Paige Parker is the best pitcher in Oklahoma history," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "And that is because not only has she won two national championships, she's done some unbelievable things. So has Keilani [Ricketts], no doubt about it. But when people recognize pitchers in this game, they recognize strikeouts. They don't recognize craftiness, guts, the will. ... She is one of the best this sport has ever seen, and people should understand that. I do." -- Graham Hays
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Down 2-0 to Florida State in the fifth inning Saturday night with two runners on base, Oregon coach Mike White brought in Megan Kleist, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, to relieve Miranda Elish. The season was on the line, and Oregon needed to draw the line.
So when the Seminoles' Jessie Warren hit a hard drive to shortstop and the Ducks' DJ Sanders leaped to make the grab, it looked for all the world like the momentum could be shifting. Sanders looked to second, but the runner was planted on the base. She looked to first, and launched the ball toward Mia Camuso, hoping to catch Elizabeth Mason as Mason returned to the bag. The throw missed its target, and both runners advanced.
That summed up this game -- this week -- for Oregon. The Ducks would get an opportunity to make a statement and then squander it.
The top-seeded Ducks fell 4-1 to the Seminoles. Coupled with Florida's loss to Oklahoma earlier Saturday, this marks just the third time in Women's College World Series history that neither the No. 1 nor the No. 2 seed advanced to the semifinals.
"I feel like if we had come out and played the way I know we can, we wouldn't be going home tonight," Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis said.
Oregon was never able to find its groove in Oklahoma City. Even in its first game against Arizona State, which the Ducks won 11-6, both Elish and Kleist looked a bit shaky. All six of those runs were earned. It was the same dreaded number against Pac-12 rival Washington on Friday. Kleist and Elish combined to give up six earned runs in the Ducks' 6-2 loss.
"Unfortunately this week, we weren't at our best, and I'm getting tired of giving that speech," White said. "We're working hard to find that secret to busting through that door."
Florida State senior Kylee Hanson went 6 1/3 innings and gave up just one (unearned) run. Her efficiency allowed the Seminoles, the ACC champions, to punch their ticket to the semifinals, taking down an opponent who won the brutal Pac-12.
"It's on me," White said. "I've got to find a way to get us to perform better in the big moments." -- Katie Barnes
No. 4 Oklahoma 2, No. 2 Florida 0
After one pitch, Florida had enough of Jocelyn Alo.
Oklahoma's sensational slugger unloaded the only ball in the strike zone she saw Saturday night over the left-field bleachers, never mind the left-field wall. And with that, the Gators summarily waved their white flag and intentionally walked Alo the rest of the way.
Only by then, it was too late.
Alo's first-inning shot propelled the fourth-seeded Sooners to a 2-0 win over No. 2 Florida at Hall of Fame Stadium, and Oklahoma eliminated the Gators from the Women's College World Series for the second consecutive season.
This time around, the Sooners left the theatrics back in Norman. Last year, Oklahoma swept Florida in the national championship series, but not before a 17-inning, Game 1 classic.
Saturday, the Sooners instead simply fell back on the dominance of Alo and tireless workhorse ace Paige Parker.
After hurling a complete game earlier Saturday in an elimination game against Arizona State, Parker came back to throw 104 more pitches for her fourth complete-game victory of the postseason.
Alo, however, needed only a single pitch to make her mark.
After smacking a home run in the morning against the Sun Devils, Alo tied the NCAA freshman record with her 30th homer against the Gators. The NCAA single-season record for home runs is 37, set by Laura Espinoza of Arizona in 1995.
To avoid giving up another, Florida coach Tim Walton intentionally walked Alo her next two at-bats, even with runners on base. The ploy paid off initially, as Shay Knighten struck out swinging to end the third inning.
"I think [intentionally walking Alo] was a smart move because I felt like this game was going to be a very tight game," Gasso said. "With what she did in the first inning, it made sense. It's still a risk, but that's the kind of the respect Jocelyn is getting."
But in the fifth, the Gators walked Alo again, this time to load the bases. And although Knighten struck out again, the pitch got away from Florida catcher Janell Wheaton, allowing Oklahoma's second and final run to score.
"I don't think I've ever walked anyone to put a runner in scoring position," said Walton, noting Knighten's walk-off homer in the championship against his team last year. "But we weren't going to let Jocelyn beat us."
Alo and the Sooners now will get their own shot at revenge Sunday against Washington, which shut out Oklahoma on Friday. -- Jake Trotter
No. 6 Florida State 7, No. 7 Georgia 2
Florida State came to Oregon's rescue two days ago. Now, the Seminoles will try to end the Ducks' season.
Saturday at Hall of Fame Stadium, No. 6 Florida State eliminated No. 7 Georgia 7-2, setting up a clash Saturday night against the top-seeded Ducks. And a showdown of programs connected by a borrowed bus -- and much more.
Thursday morning, as the Ducks traveled to Hall of Fame Stadium for their Women's College World Series opener against Arizona State, the tires on their bus blew out.
Stranded, Oregon coach Mike White turned to the Florida State coaching staff, with whom he's become close, thanks to a longtime friendship with Florida State assistant and fellow New Zealand native Travis Wilson. The Seminoles answered White's call for help, immediately sending their own bus to pick up the Ducks and shuttle them to their game.
But that wasn't Florida State's only Good Samaritan act toward the Ducks.
Oregon infielder Mia Camuso had left her jersey in the borrowed bus. So Florida State coach Lonni Alameda grabbed it and drove it to her before first pitch.
The two coaching staffs, however, won't be the only friends facing off Saturday night.
Florida State pitcher Meghan King, who picked up her 23rd win in the victory against Georgia, and Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on Friday, were battery mates in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida, where they won a state championship together.
This time, they'll be in opposite dugouts. Both trying to chase an NCAA title. -- Jake Trotter
No. 4 Oklahoma 2, No. 8 Arizona State 0
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Even out of the losers bracket, the Sooners showed Saturday that with Paige Parker in the circle and Jocelyn Alo at the plate, they remain a threat in this Women's College World Series.
Behind Parker's dominant outing and Alo's national-best 29th home run, fourth-seeded Oklahoma sent No. 8 Arizona State home in the first elimination game at Hall of Fame Stadium with a 2-0 victory.
One day after failing to score in the tournament opener against Washington, the Sooners struggled once again to produce the clutch hit early against Sun Devils ace G Juarez. Through the first two innings, Oklahoma put three runners in scoring position, yet failed to bring any of them home.
But on the first pitch of the third inning, Alo cranked an opposite-field solo homer over the right-field wall. It eased pressure in the Oklahoma dugout and gave Parker all the run support she would need.
The left-hander completely shut down the Sun Devils, tossing her sixth complete-game shutout of the year and second of the postseason to move to 30-3 on the season. Parker struck out seven, walked two and gave up only two hits: a single through the glove of first baseman Shay Knighten that was originally ruled an error, and a weak pop-up in front of the catcher.
In staving off elimination, the two-time defending national champion Sooners next face Florida at 7 p.m. ET later Saturday. Oklahoma took down the Gators last year in the national championship series. The Sooners' 2017 sweep included an epic 17-inning thriller in Game 1. Florida is coming off a bizarre Friday night loss to UCLA. -- Jake Trotter
YESS!!!!!!!!!!!! ALO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CLUTCH UP BABY!!!!!!- Lauren Chamberlain (@LChamberlain44) June 2, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY -- With UCLA's Rachel Garcia and Florida's Kelly Barnhill in the circle, the game under the Friday night lights at the Women's College World Series was expected to be a pitching duel. Instead, it was a night where the batters made the pitchers pay for costly mistakes in UCLA's 6-5 victory.
To be sure, Barnhill and Garcia got theirs. The reigning (Garcia) and former (Barnhill) players of the year combined for a WCWS-record 28 strikeouts, including Barnhill's impressive stretch of eight straight to start the game. But if the batters weren't striking out, they were sending balls over the fence. Garcia, who had given up six homers all season coming into the game, surrendered three. Barnhill allowed two.
And then there was everything else. Garcia threw a wild pitch in the first inning that scored Florida's first run. Barnhill had a particularly rough stretch in the fourth that included a throwing error to first base, an illegal pitch, a hit batter and giving up a three-run homer.
"When you walk people and make errors," Barnhill said, "they make you pay for it."
The tricky thing for Barnhill is that even with the fourth inning, she still arguably pitched the better game. She gave up only three hits. And of the six UCLA runs, only one was earned. Compare that with Garcia, who gave up seven hits and four earned runs, well above her 1.33 ERA. And yet it was Garcia walking away with the win to improve to 29-3 on the season and keep UCLA in the winners bracket. Barnhill (29-2) took just her second loss but left the Gators one defeat from elimination.
Both Garcia and Barnhill, however, did their jobs down the stretch. In the seventh, Barnhill struck out two of the final three batters she faced. (To add another twist, Gators coach Tim Walton was ejected during the top of the seventh.) Then Garcia struck out the side to put the game away for the Bruins.
"I'll give credit to Florida, they hit [Garcia's] misses," UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "But it's not what you do when it happens, it's what you do after. And I'm so proud of Rachel." -- Katie Barnes
No. 5 Washington 6, No. 1 Oregon 2
Washington is right where it looked like the Huskies would be for much of this season, a game away from the championship series with a day to rest and a loss to spare.
They also pulled off their second upset of consequence in as many days at the Women's College World Series to get there.
So it goes for a team that spent more time this season ranked No. 1 than any other but still entered the postseason an underdog -- in part because it couldn't beat the team it faced Friday. But after a 6-2 victory against top-seeded Oregon, its first win in four tries this season against its Pac-12 rival, Washington will play for a national championship unless it is beaten twice Sunday by a team still to be determined.
The Huskies could be forgiven for being a little defensive about their bona fides, but they are instead letting their defense do the talking. It spoke loudly in the decisive fifth inning Friday.
For the opening innings, the two defenses traded highlights. Washington shortstop Sis Bates glided easily into the middle of center field after a pop fly, but Oregon counterpart DJ Sanders picked a short hop and beat the runner to first with her throw. Washington third baseman Taylor Van Zee fielded a hard liner at third, and in the same motion wheeled and threw out the runner. But Sanders and Lauren Lindvall smoothly turned a double play to end an inning.
That stalemate ended in the fifth. While Washington center fielder Kelly Burdick misread a hard hit off Jenna Lilley's bat in the top of the inning, she recovered in time to make the catch and avert disaster with a runner on base. In the bottom of the inning, Washington's Noelle Hee led off with a single up the middle that clipped off the glove of a diving Sanders. Pinch running for Hee, Kaija Gibson advanced to third on Lilley's throwing error on an attempted force at second base. Gibson scored, painfully by all appearances, when Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis was called for obstruction trying to gather in a throw up the line, her glove catching Gibson in the face. Two more runs came in when Van Zee followed with a single, and the Huskies had all the offense they would need.
Among those plays, only Lilley's throw was an error, and none was all that egregious given the pressure of the stakes and surroundings. But it is those small margins that so often matter here. Through two games, first against two-time defending champion Oklahoma on Thursday and then Friday against the team that swept it in Seattle in April, Washington's defense was almost flawless -- spectacularly flawless -- in support of Gabbie Plain and Taran Alvelo.
"Defense wins championships; it can also lose championships," Oregon coach Mike White said. "We just did not make the big play when we had to, and they did. They made some superb plays out there."
Not until the seventh inning of their second game, after recording 35 of their first 40 outs in the field, did the Huskies commit an error. And as if to underscore the larger point, that miscue also ended Washington's shutout streak.
Two of the nation's highest-scoring offenses carved out a few hard-earned chances against Plain and Alvelo. But Washington's defense never let those cracks spiderweb into runs the way Friday's fifth inning made clear can happen in a hurry in Oklahoma City. -- Graham Hays
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was a tale of two innings for UCLA on Thursday at the Women's College World Series.
In the fifth, with the Florida State fans bellowing their trademark Seminoles chant, FSU outfielder Dani Morgan cracked a single up the middle to break up Rachel Garcia's no-hitter and drive in Cali Harrod from third base. Five batters later, and still in the fifth, Sydney Sherrill hit a three-run double to put the Seminoles on top 4-0.
In the bottom half of the fifth, the Bruins settled for one run and stranded two runners on base. The last out was a strikeout by Garcia.
Still, this was a game where the numbers didn't quite make sense. Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, UCLA had more hits than FSU. Garcia, the USA Softball and espnW player of the year, had struck out 14 batters (she would finish with 15). And yet UCLA trailed 4-1. The Bruins were making little mistakes. There were bobbles, missed fly balls, bad throws. The bats lacked timing and pop.
And then the bottom of the sixth inning happened.
A walk and two singles loaded the bases for pinch hitter Julie Rodriguez, who knocked in one run with a sacrifice to center. Then it was up to Kylee Perez. With two outs in the inning and the Bruins just four outs from defeat, the senior sent the ball over the fence for her 300th career hit. The three-run shot gave UCLA the lead for the first time in the game.
The Bruins tacked on two more runs to make it a six-run sixth inning and, three outs later, a 7-4 victory.
"They knew they could rally back," Bruins coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "If you felt the energy in the dugout, there was never any doubt." -- Katie Barnes
No. 2 Florida 11, No. 7 Georgia 3
Aleshia Ocasio has pitched more than 500 innings in four seasons at Florida. She batted more than 300 times in the same span. She's already won a national championship and made the all-tournament team in the Women's College World Series.
She has played a lot of softball and a lot of roles for the Gators.
And the roughly 20 minutes it took to play the first inning of Florida's opening game against Georgia in this World Series provided a pretty good summation of a long, distinguished and rarely uneventful career.
And after all those ups and downs, she is two wins from a third championship series after the Gators exorcised one demon with a commanding 11-3 victory Thursday.
No matter what you saw a week ago, when Ocasio twice gave up late home runs to Texas A&M's Tori Vidales, no opponent has caused Ocasio more misery than Georgia. It was the Bulldogs who kept the Gators from the World Series in 2016, when Ocasio gave up a walk-off home run in a super regional that ended Florida's run as the No. 1 overall seed and its bid for a three-peat.
It was Georgia that beat her earlier this season with another walk-off home run -- although that was the only one of four Bulldogs home runs off Ocasio in that game. The others came off national player of the year finalist Kelly Barnhill, which might explain why Ocasio got the start Thursday evening.
And it was Georgia, after some first-inning drama surrounding an obstruction call at second base, that hit a two-run home run off Ocasio in this game to take the early lead.
But it was Ocasio who answered in the bottom of the inning with a three-run homer of her own to take the sting out of the rivalry.
Her teammates had her back, their runs more than enough to run roughshod against the depleted Georgia pitching staff. It still mattered that it was Ocasio who restored the lead.
She always finds a way to answer. After the super regional disappointment in 2016, staring at a loaded pitching depth chart, she came back as primarily a position player for a season. After the walk-off loss against Georgia earlier this season, she pitched a gem in the series finale.
Florida will take on the winner of the Day 1 finale. UCLA, featuring espnW and USA Softball player of the year Rachel Garcia, plays Florida State to conclude Day 1 (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). -- Graham Hays
No. 5 Washington 2, No. 4 Oklahoma 0
Gabbie Plain gave up two hits in the first inning she ever pitched for Washington, a February game against a Saint Louis team that finished a game under .500 on the season.
In the first inning the Australian freshman pitched in the Women's College World Series, she held the two-time defending national champions hitless and set a tone for what was to follow.
That is quite some learning curve.
It took Washington time to scratch together the runs it needed for what, by measure of seeding and regular-season rankings, was a mild upset that resonated like a larger one on the opening day of the World Series. But a freshman pitcher few would have projected to be in such a position when the season began made it clear from the first pitch Thursday that a game was on.
Every lineup in Oklahoma City is fearsome at the top, but Oklahoma is a step beyond. No one else offers the national home-run leader, Jocelyn Alo; a former World Series Most Outstanding Player, Shay Knighten; and one of the five best batting averages in the field, Sydney Romero.
Plain went through them in 16 pitches, even including a nine-pitch battle for a strikeout against Alo. She threw first-pitch strikes to all three batters and never fell behind in the count. On a day when a lot of good pitching in Oklahoma City incurred some ERA damage, Plain looked as calm as if it was a Saturday in April. Even if she didn't feel quite that cool.
"There was definitely nerves, of course, with any big game," Plain said. "But that's a healthy thing. It keeps you on your toes. I was just going out there and thinking it was like any other game. We played some excellent opposition previously, so it was just go out there, throw the same game that I've been throwing, have the same team backing me up, which was definitely necessary."
She didn't finish the game -- yielding to Taran Alvelo for the final four outs -- but she didn't need to. Plain's ability to handle significant innings while Alvelo recuperated from injury during the regular season helped the Huskies earn the No. 5 seed and a chance to play the first two rounds of the tournament at home. She was the arm Washington could count on when it only really had one.
Plain did as much as anyone to get Washington to Thursday. And then she pitched a first inning that showed the Huskies plan on staying for a bit. -- Graham Hays
No. 1 Oregon 11, No. 8 Arizona State 6
The day couldn't have started much worse for Oregon. The Ducks' bus was sidelined with a flat tire, so they had to borrow Florida State's to make it to the game. After the bus dropped them off, Oregon infielder Mia Camuso realized she had left her jersey behind. It had to be driven over to the stadium.
That's not how a team wants to start its opening day at the Women's College World Series, especially when it is facing a conference rival and its formidable pitcher, G Juarez.
To make matters worse, the top-seeded Ducks had a little déjà vu when DeNae Chatman knocked a two-run shot over the fence in the top of the first inning. Oregon had dropped its first game in super regionals against Kentucky after giving up a three-run home run in the first inning.
Luckily for the Ducks, the rough start would not dictate the outcome of Thursday's game. But they did endure a wild ride.
What was expected to be a low-scoring battle between excellent pitching staffs turned into an offensive explosion. Arizona State and Oregon combined to hit four home runs and score 17 runs. Eleven of those runs belonged to Ducks, whose bats responded each time Arizona State threatened.
"It's important to regain momentum," Oregon coach Mike White said. "We were able to get the momentum back and then shut them down. If you'd told me that there would be 17 runs scored with those two pitching staffs, I would have thought you were crazy."
After the way the day started, Oregon was thrilled with the way it ended. The transportation misfortune might even been a good-luck charm yet.
"We want to know if we can borrow [Florida State's bus] for the rest of the week," White joked. -- Katie Barnes