2022 WCWS – Can Texas softball once again find an upset formula against crushing Oklahoma?
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – There are two ways to view Saturday’s opener of the Women’s College World Series slate. One is that the No. 1 seed, a historic dynasty, is playing a scrappy unranked underdog who got hot at the right time.
Or more simply: it’s Oklahoma vs. Texas (3 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN App).
The 55-2 Sooners certainly could have expected to be here, putting on one of the most dominant seasons in sports history. Meanwhile, in February, the Longhorns went 0-5 at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational and fans weren’t exactly booking hotel rooms in Oklahoma City.
But fast forward to June, and the Longhorns face the Sooners in the OKC winners’ bracket after a 7-2 win over No. 5 UCLA.
In between, the unthinkable happened: On April 16, behind the arm of Hailey Dolcini, Texas defeated Oklahoma, snapping the Sooners’ 40-game winning streak and 23-game winning streak against the Longhorns. . It was no panacea for the Texas season; the Longhorns still lost all three games in a series to Oklahoma State about a week later, and they again lost to the Cowgirls in the Big 12 tournament. But in the Seattle Regional and Fayetteville Super Regional, the Longhorns made a tear, going 5-2 with series wins over No. 11 Washington and No. 5 Arkansas, the latter a trusted win in front of a decidedly home crowd.
The Longhorns will get a heavy dose of crimson and cream on Saturday, taking on the defending champion Sooners just 20 miles from their Normandy campus.
Before the Horns’ first-round game against UCLA, Texas star Janae Jefferson, a four-time All-American, knew what was in store for her team.
“I don’t expect us to get much support from the OU fans here,” she said, before saying the Longhorns faithful were still rowdy in Arkansas. “We will definitely need this support. We are ready.”
History is not on the side of the Longhorns either. The Sooners have won five national championships, including last season. Texas, meanwhile, has made just six total WCWS appearances, the first since 2013. That was the year of the only previous Texas-OU matchup in Oklahoma City, where the Sooners outscored the Longhorns 10 -2.
But Dolcini is the reason for Texas’ long-term hopes of a second win over OU this year. In two starts against the Sooners this season, she has allowed just five points overall, giving up three in a 3-0 loss on April 14 and then two more in a 4-2 win two days later. .
Two of Oklahoma’s biggest threats, Tiare Jennings and Jocelyn Alo, are hitless in 13 appearances against Dolcini this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And while the Sooners have been held to three hits or less only three times all season, two were against Dolcini.
“It was really attacking them without fear,” Dolcini said. “You have to trust that your best players will beat their best swings and keep the ball on the ground for a team that hits a lot of long balls.”
It was a remarkable introduction to the Red River rivalry for Dolcini, a super senior transfer from Fresno State who faced the Sooners for the first time in burnt orange in this series.
“It’s not always the best team that wins,” Texas coach Mike White said Wednesday. “They’re the team that plays the best, and that day we played better than them. They had their No. 1 pitcher [Jordy Bahl] throw against us. It was 0-0 for a while, and we got a well-timed hit, and Hailey threw a hell of a game, and that’s what you gotta do.
The Sooners don’t need miracles with the machine coach Patty Gasso has built. But they’re also coming off a Game 1 that included the return of Bahl, who had been struggling with arm pain since May 6.
“We need her, but those two pitchers (Hope Trautwein, 19-1, 0.51 ERA; and Nicole May, 15-0, 0.99) crushed her,” Gasso said Thursday. “So adding Jordy (21-1, .95, 199 strikeouts in 132⅔ innings) to the mix and now having you practice for three different pitchers instead of two is tough on teams.”
Oklahoma great Alo, the sport’s all-time home run leader, says Texas’ loss earlier in the season was also a big factor in the Sooners’ run so far.
“I played with a lot of really special teams,” Alo said on Wednesday. “I’ve been here for five years so I’ve had my fair share. I think it’s the best team I’ve been in just because of how complete we are and how close we are together. Again, I’ve never seen a pitching staff like this, and they love to dice us in practice, so I feel like that’s what makes us good. I think I’ve seen this team really start to go in the right direction, I think, after we lost to Texas, and I just saw us come out of very tough times and handle it with grace and passion.”
A team from Texas at its peak and a team from Oklahoma on the cusp of historic greatness. Two weeks ago, the No. 4 Texas women’s tennis team upset the No. 2 Oklahoma team, which was 32-2 and set a program record for wins, for the title national.
Can Texas softball find the formula for another upset?
“I’ve always said that a good pitch is better than a good hit, especially in pressure situations, and Hailey managed to put on one of the best games of his career, and that’s how he gotta do it,” White said earlier this week. “I hope we can repeat it one day.”
Now they have their chance.