Top eight seeds advance to WCWS thanks to home run heroics by Florida and Georgia

Florida heads to WCWS on walk-off homer (1:08)

With the Gators down to their final strike, Jordan Matthews cracks a 3-run home run to advance to the Women's College World Series over Texas A&M. (1:08)

Not counting the innings Florida State and LSU logged after the clock struck midnight as they raced overnight to beat an impending tropical storm, the NCAA softball tournament will go quiet on Sunday.

Instead of a possible five games, there will be none. The Women's College World Series field was settled a day early.

It is your loss if you think that sounds like a predictable weekend, that there wasn't much to see if the top eight seeds advanced to the World Series for just the third time -- a World Series that features no first-time participants and nothing remotely resembling Cinderella. The truth of the matter is college softball needs an extra day to recover. And to savor what just transpired.

The super regional round often brings out some of the best in home run dramatics.

There was Hawaii's Jenna Rodriguez with a walk-off home run to silence the crowd and lift Hawaii to a series win against top-seeded Alabama in 2010, the first time since the advent of super regionals that the No. 1 seed failed to reach the Women's College World Series. Georgia's Kaylee Puailoa ended Florida's dreams of a three-peat with one swing of the bat in 2016. And Alabama's Marisa Runyon left her mark by answering Oklahoma's Lauren Chamberlain in the final game of an epic super regional between the Crimson Tide and Sooners in 2015.

Each stands out as a memory that lives beyond the moment in which it occurred, each part of postseason folklore. Folklore that now includes Florida freshman Jordan Matthews, who hit a walk-off winner Saturday with one strike to spare against Texas A&M, and quite possibly Aggies senior Tori Vidales, whose own seventh-inning home run was poised to seal the upset until Matthews intervened.

But what about Georgia senior Cortni Emanuel, who went from leading the nation in stolen bases to sending her team to the World Series with her third career home run in extra innings? Or Florida State's Carsyn Gordon, who waited five hours and 11 innings to save her team's season with a home run? Is there room enough in our collective memory to hold on to those?

The World Series field is set. After seven games decided by a single run and three games decided in extra innings, after everything from walk-off walks to walk-off home runs, what isn't clear is how the games to come will offer anything more exciting than this past weekend.

A day to rest and remember sounds like a decent idea.

No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 16 Kentucky

After Thursday night, Oregon was in as much trouble as any No. 1 seed could be. The Ducks didn't just lose the first game of a super regional against Kentucky, they gave up more runs than any top seed ever had since the round was added to the tournament in 2005.

By the time the sun set Saturday night in Eugene, the Ducks hadn't just earned their fifth trip in the past seven seasons to the Women's College World Series, they had outscored the team they eliminated by more runs in a super regional than any team except Oklahoma.

The final tally over three games: Oregon 23, Kentucky 11.

And while the drama before the game centered on Oregon coach Mike White's decision to start sophomore Miranda Elish for the second day in a row instead of going back to Pac-12 pitcher of the year Megan Kleist, Oregon's offense made the pitching a moot point by scoring seven runs in the second inning on the way to an 11-1, five-inning win.

The biggest hit was a grand slam off the bat of DJ Sanders. Perhaps that was as it should be this season. Oregon knew it would have pitching this season, its three best arms back. It knew it wouldn't have to count on just one person in the circle in the postseason. The bigger question was how the Ducks would replace All-American shortstop and cleanup hitter Nikki Udria. An answer arrived in the form of a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette, Sanders choosing Oregon for her final season and a chance to prove she was more than a paper All-American.

White took his time with Sanders. She batted near the bottom of the order for much of the regular season, as if to reinforce that not all the responsibility rested on her shoulders. But rather than struggle in adjusting from the Sun Belt to the Pac-12, she hit over .300 and slugged better than .600 in conference play.

So there she was, batting third with the season on the line. And there she was, making the familiar "O" sign with her hands as she approached her teammates after the grand slam. -- Graham Hays


Thursday, May 24
Game 1: (16) Kentucky 9, (1) Oregon 6

Friday, May 25
Game 2: (1) Oregon 6, (16) Kentucky 1

Saturday, May 26
Game 3: (1) Oregon 11, (16) Kentucky 1 (5)

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 Texas A&M

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida was down to its final out, and Jordan Matthews was down to her final strike. Whatever happened next would be the season.

Matthews, a freshman, came through in an incredible and unexpected way. She hit a towering, three-run home run to left center, giving the Gators a heart-stopping, come-from-behind 5-3 win over Texas A&M in Game 3 of their super regional, clinching a spot in the Women's College World Series.

A wild celebration ensued, not only on the field and in the stands, but in the outfield, where firefighters perched atop two City of Gainesville fire trucks parked to watch in the late innings.

"I didn't know it was over until I was halfway to second," a smiling Matthews said afterward. "It was just, " she paused for a moment. "Amazing."

Teammate Janell Wheaton, watching from the dugout, thought, "Did that really just happen?"

"It's a storybook ending," Wheaton said. "You can't draw it up any other way. Two outs, we were down by a run. That's awesome."

Added Florida coach Tim Walton: "I can't teach that stuff. That's one of those, 'Holy s---' moments. You say, 'Wow, what a great team win,' but what a great effort by Jordan."

Until the home run, it appeared as if Texas A&M would win after a dramatic home run of its own in the top of the seventh.

Tori Vidales, whose three-run home run staved off elimination for the Aggies in Game 2, hit a two-run shot off Aleshia Ocasio that gave Texas A&M the lead headed into the bottom of the inning. Trinity Harrington, who started the game but left after four innings, re-entered and allowed Matthews' home run.

"You have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and you've got to be prepared for both," Vidales said. "After I hit it, I came back in the dugout, and my head was spinning because everyone was hitting me on the head and pushing me around, and I think I lost my breath from so many chest bumps, but I had to compose myself and go back out there."

It was as dramatic a seventh inning as you'll ever see, and quite a fitting end to a series that featured dramatic, come-from-behind moments in all three games. Florida also rallied to win Game 1 in the bottom of the seventh.

Florida now makes it back to the WCWS with added motivation. Last year, Florida lost to Oklahoma in the WCWS championship series. Its three biggest stars -- Kelly Barnhill, Ocasio and Amanda Lorenz -- have vowed to get the Gators back to Oklahoma City.

When the season began, Walton gave to every person on the team orange and blue bracelets that had on them the combined score in that series -- 12-9 -- and a message: "Where the good ends and the elite begins."

That set the tone from the start: Florida knew it couldn't merely be a good team to get a shot at Oklahoma again. It had to be an elite team. One thing is for certain after Saturday: Florida is a team with guts, confidence and belief, one that doesn't know how to quit until the final out.

"It was great. I want to feel it again," Matthews said, "in OKC," -- Andrea Adelson


Thursday, May 24
Game 1: (2) Florida 5, (15) Texas A&M 4

Friday, May 25
Game 2: (15) Texas A&M, 5, (2) Florida 4

Saturday, May 26
Game 3: (2) Florida 5, (15) Texas A&M, 3

No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Arkansas

NORMAN, Okla. -- One week after a minor traffic accident prevented her from pitching for a day, senior Paige Parker unloaded one of the finest performances of her Oklahoma career.

And in steamrolling the Arkansas lineup Saturday, she catapulted the two-time defending national champions back to the Women's College World Series.

Behind Parker's sterling outing, the fourth-seeded Sooners sailed past the No. 13 Razorbacks 9-0 in the deciding Game 2 of the Norman Super Regional.

Parker tossed her fifth complete-game shutout of the year and first of the postseason. She struck out nine while scattering six hits and walking one. She improved to 23-2 in her postseason career. Freshman Jocelyn Alo hit her 28th home run of the season in the seventh inning, a total that eclipses 136 Division I teams.

Parker, one of four finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, had been Oklahoma's ace throughout her career. But shortly after pitching the Sooners to a Game 1 regional win over Boston University on May 18, she and her family were rear-ended in a three-car accident driving away from the stadium.

After sitting out the following day due mostly to stiffness, Parker came back May 20 to throw 4 1/3 innings as the Sooners clinched a super regional berth. But in Friday's opener against Arkansas, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso elected to start the hard-throwing Paige Lowary instead.

"The beauty is, in postseason, we have a lot to work with," Gasso said Friday after her Sooners handled Arkansas 7-2 without Parker.

That's a big reason why the Sooners are in Oklahoma City with the chance to become just the second program to win three straight NCAA national titles.

And the way both Paiges (Parker and Lowary) are pitching, why Oklahoma will be a threat to make history. -- Jake Trotter


Friday, May 25
Game 1: (4) Oklahoma 7, (13) Arkansas 2

Saturday, May 26
Game 2: (4) Oklahoma 9, (13) Arkansas 0

No. 5 Washington vs. No. 12 Alabama

Washington's Taran Alvelo could afford to laugh when she tripped in the circle, landing on her knees, while attempting to deliver a pitch in the seventh inning against Alabama in Game 2 of the Seattle Super Regional.

The Huskies ace, who suffered a back injury in April and had pitched only five innings since April 27, tossed a complete-game shutout Saturday, allowing just three hits and striking out eight for a 6-0 win and a trip to the Women's College World Series.

Washington will face two-time defending NCAA champion Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

It was only the second time in 32 super regional games the Crimson Tide had been shut out.

Alvelo got all the run support she needed just two pitches into the game when leadoff hitter Taylor Van Zee took Courtney Gettins deep to right-center field. The Huskies gave their pitcher plenty more runs to work with, though it turns out they were unnecessary.

Freshman Noelle Hee came through with a solo homer in the fourth inning, staking Alvelo to a 3-0 lead.

"She's a hard-working kid, does what a hitter needs to do -- and that's swing the bat," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "She's evolving, learning and growing in our program. What a time to hit a home run."

Washington added three more runs in the fifth as Kirstyn Thomas picked up her second RBI, Kelly Burdick drove in a run on a single and Van Zee walked with the bases loaded. -- Mary Ullmer


Friday, May 25
Game 1: (5) Washington 3, (12) Alabama 2 (9)

Saturday, May 26
Game 2: (5) Washington 6, (12) Alabama 0

No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 LSU

Jessie Warren kept trying to join the party in a weekend of home run heroics.

It felt like the Florida State senior star might have done it with a three-run home run in the final inning of Friday's opening game of the super regional. Her homer didn't erase a four-run deficit, but it offered up the momentum to complete a rally. Except the Seminoles couldn't do it, and lost 6-5.

No matter, she tried again early in the second game. Her two-run home run in the third inning erased a 1-0 deficit and keyed a four-run surge that put the Seminoles in control in a game they had to win to force a winner-take-all finale. Her home run seemed like it could get them there. But a lead that eventually grew to four runs vanished on one swing of the bat from LSU's Shemiah Sanchez. So, on and on the teams played, the game stretching more than five hours and 400 pitches.

In the 11th inning, it wasn't Warren, but first Carsyn Gordon and then Anna Shelnutt whose home runs most directly staved off elimination for the Seminoles and forced the third game that had to be played the same night because of a looming tropical storm.

So Warren, the senior leader and active Division I leader in career home runs, tried one more time. Her 81st career home run, the most in ACC history and one behind Sierra Romero for ninth in NCAA history, put Florida State in front 2-0 early in the third game. Then, she turned it over to Kylee Hanson, the fifth-year senior pitcher who transferred from Florida Atlantic this season.

This time it held up. Warren's RBIs came on one of the only two hits Florida State had in the game, and they proved to be the deciding runs in a 3-1 win that completed the super regional comeback. -- Graham Hays


Friday, May 25
Game 1: (11) LSU 6, (6) Florida State 5

Saturday, May 26
Game 2: (6) Florida State 8, (11) LSU 5 (11)

Saturday, May 26
Game 3: (6) Florida State 3, (11) LSU 1

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 10 Tennessee

ATHENS, Ga. -- The morning before the final home game of her career, Cortni Emanuel was expressing frustration to her father.

The speedy Georgia senior was tired of being called out of the box while slapping.

Her father, Bert, a former NFL wide receiver, gave his daughter simple advice: "Take it to the trees."

Emanuel did just that.

In her final at-bat at Jack Turner Stadium, Emanuel roped a game-winning home run into the trees over the right-field fence to send Georgia to the Women's College World Series for the fourth time in program history by sweeping the all-SEC super regional on Saturday afternoon.

"My dad told me, 'Nobody can take away what you have done. Just do you. Be you. You are unstoppable,'" Emanuel said. "He was like, 'If you are not going to slap, then take it to the trees.'"

Emanuel's no-doubt shot off Tennessee reliever Caylan Arnold came with two outs in the top of the eighth inning on an 0-2 changeup. It was the third home run of her career, all of which have come this season.

"Cortni is Cortni. She's amazing," Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. "She is the heart and soul of our team."

Emanuel's clutch at-bat delivered a much-deserved victory to Mary Wilson Avant. The Georgia sophomore went the distance, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning and giving up just four hits and one earned run.

Center fielder Ciara Bryan capped the heroics for the Dawgs with a tremendous play in the bottom of the eighth inning. The sophomore perfectly tracked a deep drive by Chelsea Seggern to the wall and made a jumping catch for the second out.

Georgia (48-11) went from finishing last in the SEC last season to heading back to the World Series for the second time in three years.

As the players celebrated on the field, Emanuel found her dad, and their eyes began to well with tears.

"People dream of those moments, and it happened," Emanuel said. "I am just glad I could just do that for my team and punch the ticket to OKC." -- Rhiannon Potkey


Friday, May 25
Game 1: (7) Georgia 4, (10) Tennessee 3

Saturday, May 26
Game 2: (7) Georgia 2, (10) Tennessee 1 (8)

No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 South Carolina

You know that saying about good things coming in threes? Arizona State could submit DeNae Chatman as evidence.

Last week, with Arizona State a win away from clinching a spot in super regionals, the freshman hit a three-run home run in the first inning against Ole Miss to send the Sun Devils on their way.

Saturday night, with Arizona State a win away from clinching a spot in the Women's College World Series and clinging to a one-run lead against South Carolina, Chatman hit a three-run double in the fifth inning to send the Sun Devils on their way.

Senior Breanna Macha, in her last start at Farrington Stadium, scattered eight hits to go along with six strikeouts in the 5-2 win.

The game turned in the fifth inning. With the score tied 1-1, Skylar McCarty, Kindra Hackbarth and Taylor Becerra hit back-to-back-to back singles to load the bases. Howe made it four hits in a row and gave Arizona State a 2-1 lead. That's when Chatman drove the ball to the wall to make it 5-1.

Arizona State will be making its 12th trip to Oklahoma City and will open against fellow Pac-12 power Oregon. Arizona State won the national championship in 2008 and 2011. No Pac-12 team has won it since. -- Susie Arth


Friday, May 25
Game 1: (8) Arizona State 5, (9) South Carolina 2

Saturday, May 26
Game 2: (8) Arizona State 5, (9) South Carolina 2