Even with OU’s powerhouse, college softball has more parity than ever

Even with OU’s powerhouse, college softball has more parity than ever

Two dozen teams in the top 25 have splendid records, so determining Eight for OKC is no easy task.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 27, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 27, 2024, 6:00am CDT

In the early 2000s, Sue Enquist sat in front of a room of reporters at the Women’s College World Series and sang the praises of parity in college softball.

I probably nodded my head and scribbled down what she said. 

At the time, I had covered the WCWS a handful of times, and Enquist was the long-time and super-successful UCLA head coach. I figured she had to know more than me about the state of the sport.

Looking back, Enquist was probably just trying to be nice to 98% of the college softball teams because the Bruins had long been a powerhouse with only a couple of legitimate challengers. 

Softball parity in the early 2000s looks a lot different than softball parity in 2024.

With six weeks remaining in the regular season, the number of teams with a legit shot at making the WCWS seems to grow by the week. How many of them could unseat the three-time defending national champion OU Sooners is a topic for another day. But the teams that could be in OKC? The list of candidates is long.

Makes it a challenge doing Eight for OKC, our regular series looking at the teams poised to make the WCWS.

Consider this: in Softball America’s latest poll, there are a dozen teams in the top 25 with five or fewer losses. Another dozen have nine or fewer. So all but one team in the top 25 has yet to reach double-digit losses and winning percentages of well over .750 are common.

I realize that around these parts, our belief in what makes for a good record has been skewed by OU’s recent success. The Sooners lose as rarely as we have a solar eclipse. Losses are so uncommon that it’s easy to think such a thing is normal.

It isn’t.

But more teams around college softball are really good, which makes predicting who will make it to Oklahoma City as difficult as ever. 

Before we get to that … 

Player praise

A couple of weeks ago, Cydney Sanders was swinging one of the hottest bats in the country. Perhaps she decided to share it with fellow Sooner slugger Alynah Torres. Last week, Torres smashed four home runs, two in the same inning in a mid-week win against UT-Arlington and two more in OU’s weekend series sweep of Baylor.

Torres has played in all of OU’s games but started only about two-thirds of them. She may be impossible to keep out of the starting lineup if she keeps hitting like this.

She has been great in the field, too, playing second recently. Torres played shortstop at Arizona State before transferring to OU before the 2023 season, so she’s a more-than-capable middle infielder.

A nod of praise also goes to Wichita State slugger CC Wong. She hit three homers in a game against UTSA on Saturday, driving in six runs and raising her batting average to .500.

The best thing about Wong: she’s only 5-foot-4, not exactly your prototypical home-run hitter.

Look out for … 

Texas State. Not Texas, though the Longhorns are really good, too. Texas State.

The Sunbelt Conference team in San Marcos, Texas, has become a fixture in the national polls. The Bobcats are 25-7 and are sniffing the top 15 in the Softball America poll — and they might deserve to be even higher than that.

According to DISoftball.com, Texas State’s RPI is 10th in the country. Texas State’s strength of schedule is eighth nationally. Better than LSU (17th) and Texas (20th) and even OU (49th). 

If the Bobcats keep up their winning ways, they’ve got a legit shot at hosting a regional in the NCAA Tournament.

Texas State is led by right-handed pitcher Jessica Mullins, who is 16-3 with 112 strikeouts and a 0.83 earned run average. The fourth-year senior is a rarity in college sports today: a mid-major standout who has spent her entire career at the same school. She hasn’t been lured away by the transfer portal or the NIL possibilities at bigger programs.

Props go to … 

Lots of oxygen in the Big 12 footprint goes to the Sooners and Cowgirls and Horns, oh my. It’s for a good reason; OU, OSU and Texas are legit WCWS contenders.

But Kansas deserves some talk, too.

Yes, the Jayhawks.

Long a softball afterthought, Kansas is 7-2 in Big 12 play after sweeps of Baylor and Houston the past two weekends. The Jayhawks also have notable non-conference wins against Texas A&M and Wichita State (twice).

Next up for Kansas: hosting OU.

Eight for OKC

All right, I said the number of teams with a legitimate shot at making the WCWS keeps growing. But here are the eight that I expect to make the field later this spring with records through Sunday’s games:

1. OU (31-1): The Sooner bats seem to be heating up. Not that they were cold before, but since OU’s loss to Louisiana, the Sooners have scored in double digits in eight of 13 games. They’ve also had eight run-run wins during that stretch. Will be interesting to see if that hot streak continues against an improved Kansas team this weekend and against top-five Texas next weekend.

2. Texas (28-3): The Horns have the toughest two-week stretch of any team coming up. First, Texas has a three-game series this weekend at Oklahoma State. Then, the Horns host OU for three games before a mid-week chaser against Texas State. Should Reese Atwood and Co. emerge from that stretch with only a loss or two, look out.

3. Stanford (25-5): As hot as any team in the country. Since Feb. 23, the Cardinal is 20-1, its lone loss coming somewhat inexplicably against Sacramento State. But since that loss, Stanford has rallied for Pac-12 series sweeps of Cal and Utah. And NiJaree Canady is still doing NiJaree Canady things.

4. Georgia (27-4): The Bulldogs have the best RPI in the country. Their strength of schedule is fifth nationally, and it isn’t going to get easier. Big SEC matchups against Arkansas and Tennessee loom. 

5. OSU (26-5): Last week wasn’t the best for the Cowgirls, losing a mid-week game to Tulsa and getting run-ruled by BYU. But here’s what’s becoming increasingly clear: OSU has as good a one-two punch in the circle as any team in the country. Lexi Kilfoyl (0.95 ERA) and Ivy Rosenberry (1.04) are tough, and that will make the Cowgirls a tough out in the postseason.

6. Tennessee (25-4): The Volunteers have blown through the first two weeks of SEC play, including a sweep of Missouri, which beat LSU two of three. Like OSU, Tennessee has a couple of big-time arms in Karlyn Pickens (0.57 ERA) and Payton Gottshall (1.05).

7. Duke (26-3): The Blue Devils continue to win at an impressive clip, and winning two of three against Florida State was a good sign Duke can beat quality opponents. But its strength of schedule (65th nationally) is easily the lowest among our Eight for OKC. 

8. LSU (25-4): The Tigers have cooled considerably after starting the season with 24 consecutive wins. They have lost four of their last five, dropping two of three in series with Ole Miss and Missouri. The big wins against the likes of Texas, OSU, Northwestern and Kentucky (thrice) are still on LSU’s resume, but so are those losses. Tigers need to reverse course and quickly.

First out: Washington (22-5). Believe it or don’t, but our Eight for OKC plus one remained the same as its inaugural week, though the one-through-eight ranking changed a bit. But the Huskies have a great chance to push into the top eight. The Pac-12 is tough this season, and so far Washington has claimed series wins against Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA. 

Others in consideration

Texas A&M (28-4)

Florida (29-4)

Virginia Tech (25-5-1)

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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