OU still a favorite? A not-too-early Women’s College World Series projection

OU still a favorite? A not-too-early Women’s College World Series projection

OU still has a strong resume despite that loss to Louisiana, but the Sooners aren’t the only ones who have impressed so far this season.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 12, 2024, 9:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 12, 2024, 9:00am CDT

(This story originally appeared in Jenni Carlson’s newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Conference play has started in earnest around college softball.

Not everyone is knee-deep in league play — the Big Ten doesn’t start for another two weeks because, well, there could still be snow in places like Minnesota and Nebraska — but this turn in the schedule feels like a turn down the home stretch of the season.

Won’t be long before the NCAA Tournament starts.

And that means the Women’s College World Series will be here before we know it.

With that in mind, this feels like the perfect week to debut Eight for OKC. This was a regular feature we used to do at The Oklahoman, a creation of my Sellout Crowd boss Mike Sherman, and it looks at the teams most likely to make the WCWS.

I figured I’d add a little more fun to the mix by looking at some of the big headlines and the under-the-radar stories around college softball.

So without further ado:

Player praise

Cydney Sanders is coming off the best weekend of her Sooner career. 

The OU first baseman hit four home runs in three games against Iowa State, including three in two games Saturday. She now has eight homers this season, most on the team ahead of Alyssa Brito and Tiare Jennings, both of whom have seven.

Sanders had a tough time of it last season, her first at OU after transferring from Arizona State. She hit only .284 after putting up a .425 batting average as a freshman in Tempe. 

But this season, she is hitting .385 and has the Sooners’ highest slugging percentage (1.051) and on-base percentage (.579).

Look out for … 

Florida went to Alabama this weekend and took two of three from the Crimson Tide. What’s more, the Gators won the games in dominant fashion, shutout and run-rule.

Rare is the team that goes to Tuscaloosa and does that to the Tide.

Florida is picking up steam. It has losses against Michigan (twice) and Oklahoma State. No shame in losing to either of those teams. But the Gators have as good a chance to improve as any team this season because they are leaning heavily on a pair of true freshmen pitchers, Keagan Rothrock and Ava Brown. The righties have already shown their learning curve is steep.

Saturday, Rothrock shut out Alabama, allowing only one hit in a complete game.

Sunday, Brown held the Crimson Tide to two runs over five innings in the run-rule victory.

Monday, Alabama bounced back in the third game of the series, but Florida still made a strong statement. 

Props go to … 

Houston made its Big 12 debut Friday with an upset of Texas.

Depending on which rankings you like, the Longhorns were either No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation, so beating them was huge for the Cougars. It’s even bigger since the Horns are in-state rivals, vying for lots of the same recruits as the Cougars.

Even though Texas came back to take the last two games of the weekend series, winning 9-2 and 8-6, Houston showed that a team can hit with the Horns. They are averaging nearly nine runs a game, but the Cougars went toe-to-toe with the Horns offensively.

Houston’s win in the series opener: a 12-10 slugfest.

Tip of the cap to the Cougars.

Texas Longhorns catcher Reese Atwood (14) walks off the field after a third strikeout against Baylor during the game at Red & Charline McCombs Field on Friday, May 5, 2023 in Austin.

Texas catcher Reese Atwood. (Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman/USA Today Network)

Eight for OKC

Now, for the main event, the eight teams most likely to make the field for this year’s Women’s College World Series.

1. OU: The Sooners remain not only the team most likely to be in the WCWS but also the team to beat for the national title. Yes, they have an unexpected loss to Louisiana on their resume, but this is a team with lots of great hitters and solid pitching. Plus, OU knows how to win in the postseason better than any other program in college softball.

2. Texas: Don’t look now, but it might be a match-up of Red River Rivals for the national title. They did it two years ago, and this Longhorn team looks better than the 2022 version. National player-of-the-year frontrunner Reese Atwood leads the way with 10 homers and 40 RBI. The sophomore catcher is one of seven Horns hitting .400 or better. 

3. LSU: The Bayou Bengals are the last undefeated team in major-college softball. It’s not that they haven’t been tested. Seven of their wins have been by a single run, and while some were against the ranked teams such as OSU, Northwestern and Kentucky, LSU has also had close calls against the likes of Boise State and Illinois. Finding a way to win is no small thing.

4. Stanford: The Cardinal doesn’t have the most pristine record at 18-4, but it played arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the nation. Nine ranked teams. A handful of other opponents that have been ranked at some point this season. And powered by pitcher NiJaree Canady, Stanford has wins against the likes of Texas, Georgia and Tennessee.

5. Georgia: Speaking of the Bulldogs, this is a big-hitting Georgia team. How big? Last month in the Clearwater Invitational, it beat Florida State, national runner-up a year ago, 20-10. Jayda Kearney leads the way for Georgia, but there’s power up and down the Dogs’ lineup.

6. OSU: Even after losing a ton from last year’s WCWS team, the Cowgirls are playing like a seasoned bunch. They’ve scored big nonconference wins against UCLA, Florida and Washington, but what OSU did this past weekend at Baylor was eye-opening. In three down-to-the-wire games, OSU found a way to win two on the road against a top-15 team.

7. Tennessee: Had a bad loss a couple of weeks ago to Cal State-Fullerton, but the Vols also have several solid wins against Clemson and Baylor (twice). Having a pitching staff that ranks top-10 nationally in ERA and a leader like centerfielder Kiki Milloy makes the Vols tough.

8. Duke: Easily the squishiest pick. The Blue Devils are 19-1 and ranked top five nationally, but their schedule has been soft. After opening with a loss to top-ranked OU, Duke has played only one other ranked team, and it was a Nebraska team 24 hours removed from Jordy Bahl injuring her knee. Duke will be tested this weekend, though, opening ACC play at Florida State.

First out: Washington. If not for teams from our state, the Huskies might be a top-five team. Two of their three losses have come against teams from Oklahoma, a close call against OU in extra innings and a drubbing by OSU. 

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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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