OKLAHOMA CITY – Shay Knighten’s three-run home run in the top of the 17th lifted Oklahoma to a 7-5 win over Florida in an epic game one of the WCWS Championship series, Monday evening at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium/OGE Energy Field.
Following the longest game in Women’s College World Series history (17 innings / five hours, 28 minutes), the Gators (58-9) and Sooners (60-9) will do it again in less than 24 hours at 8 p.m. ET.
The top of the 17th started with a pair of Kelly Barnhill strikeouts before the OU rally started. Nicole Mendes singled and Caleigh Clifton was plunked. On a 1-2 pitch, Knighten launched a high home run into the leftfield bleachers for the game-winning long ball.
The Gators would not go down quietly in the bottom half of the frame. They loaded the bases with one out and scored a run on an Amanda Lorenz sac fly, but starter Paige Lowary, who reentered in the 14th, fanned Kayli Kvistad to end the comeback bid.
Both starters reentered- Lowery in the 12th and Barnhill in the 16th- and factored into the decisions. In her first start since April, Lowary (16-3) scattered eight hits in a combined 10.1 innings. She allowed two runs, struck out seven and walked one.
Barnhill (26-4) went the first seven and totaled nine innings in the defeat. She surrendered five runs on six hits with 13 punchouts and two walks.
An Aleshia Ocasio two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fourth gave UF a 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long as OU evened the contest at 1-1 in the top half of the fifth. Sydney Romero tied the game with a RBI single back up the middle. An inning later, Nicole Mendes crushed a go-ahead home run into the right field bleachers.
The Gators evened the contest with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. With Ocasio on first following a leadoff walk, Sophia Reynoso stepped up with two outs and hit what looked like a routine fly ball to left center off reliever Paige Parker. However, with the outfielders playing near the warning track to prevent a double the ball dropped in off of diving leftfielder Macey Hatfield’s glove for a game-tying double.
After being no-hit for four innings by reliever Delanie Gourley, OU recorded its first hit off the southpaw, a Shay Knighten double, to lead off the 12th. Fale Aviu took the next pitch and deposited over the right field fence for a 4-2 lead.
Relievers Gourley and Parker combined for 14.2 innings. Gourley entered in the eighth and went eight plus innings. She allowed two runs on four hits with 13 strikeouts, a walk and hit batter. Parker came in to start the sixth and went 6.2 innings. She surrenders three runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and three free passes.
The Gators, down to their last strike again, matched the Sooners with a two-run inning of their own in the bottom half of the 12th. The first two batters reached on a walk and single. After a pair of outs, Paige Lowary reentered to face Amanda Lorenz. The lefty leadoff came up big, stroking a two-run game-tying double to the gap in left center. Lorenz finished 2-for-7 with three RBI
The Gators got out of bases loaded jams in the 15th and 16th innings. Gourley worked out of the jam inducing a fielder’s choice groundout to shortstop. An inning later, Barnhill reentered with a 2-0 count on the second batter. Following two walks sandwiched around a flyout, the righty induced a chopper to first for a fielder’s choice and then struck out the pinch hitter to end the threat.
-- Image courtesy of Oklahoma Athletics