The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Oklahoma favored to win third national championsh­ip

- By Cliff Brunt

Oklahoma is in the midst of one of the most dominant runs ever in women’s college softball.

Under coach Patty Gasso, the Sooners have won five of the past nine national championsh­ips. They could add another rare accolade this season by becoming the first program since UCLA from 1988 to 1990 to win three consecutiv­e titles.

Even with NCAA career home runs leader Jocelyn Alo having moved on to play pro ball, the Sooners are favored to win it all again. Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Preseason Top 25 Coaches Poll and the Softball Collegiate Top 25.

Gasso doesn’t want to talk about winning another title yet.

“We don’t talk about winning three,” she said. “Those are words that we’re not really talking about around here because it’s premature. It’s really about the process. It’s the journey. It’s all of that, all the work we put in.”

It’s easy to see why Oklahoma is considered the team to beat.

Infielder Tiare Jennings may be the nation’s best player. She dominated at last year’s Women’s College World Series, setting records with 15 RBIs and five home runs. She entered this season with 179 career RBIs in just two seasons. Infielder Grace Lyons and utility player Jayda Coleman are dynamic defensive players who can hit and Kinzie Hansen is among the nation’s top catchers.

Pitcher Jordy Bahl was the National Fastpitch Coaches Associatio­n’s Freshman of the Year last season. Veteran Nicole May and Alex Storako, a transfer from Michigan, are among those who will support Bahl.

Oklahoma is winning in the transfer portal, too. Cydney Sanders, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at Arizona State, had 21 home runs and 63 RBIs for the Sun Devils. Haley Lee, a third-team NFCA All-American last season, transferre­d from

Texas A&M.

UCLA, which beat the Sooners for the title in 2019 and reached the semifinals last season, is ready to challenge. Pitcher Megan Faraimo is one of the nation’s best, and the Bruins have the bats to back her up.

UCLA star Aaliyah Jordan was granted a seventh year by the NCAA after her 2022 season was cut short due to a torn left ACL. The outfielder was a

first-team NFCA AllAmerica­n in 2018 and 2021 and a Softball America first-team All-American during the shortened 2020 season. She helped the Bruins win a national title in 2019.

Maya Brady, a utility player, was a first-team NFCA All-American in 2021. The niece of NFL great Tom Brady hit two home runs in a Women’s College World Series win over Oklahoma last season. UCLA also was strong in the transfer portal, adding Arizona’s Sharlize Palacios and Janelle Meono and Oregon’s Brooke Yanez and Rachel Cid.

Oklahoma State has been knocking on the door. The Cowgirls beat Oklahoma to win the Big 12 Tournament last season and reached the WCWS semifinals. The Cowgirls have made three straight World Series trips.

NFCA All-America pitcher Kelly Maxwell leads Oklahoma State, and she has plenty of help. Alabama transfer Lexi Kilfoyl had 13 starts and a 2.36 ERA for the Crimson Tide last season. Freshman Kyra Aycock was one of the nation’s top pitching recruits.

Freshman infielder Tallen Edwards skipped her senior season at Southmoore (Oklahoma) High School to enroll and is already a starter. She was named the No. 3 overall prospect in Extra Innings Softball’s 2023 Extra Elite 100.

Graduate senior Chyenne Factor and junior Katelynn Carwile return to anchor the outfield. Infielder Rachel Becker is at Oklahoma State after being a thirdteam All-American as a shortstop at Purdue last season.

Florida State should also be in the mix. Pitcher Kathryn Sandercock and utility player Mack Leonard led a team that finished second in the Women’s College World Series in 2021 and was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament this past season.

Texas reached the championsh­ip series last season and could be a factor again, with infielder Mia Scott and pitcher Estelle Czech leading the charge.

The Southeaste­rn Conference usually is in the mix, and it should be again. Alabama features veteran pitcher Montana Fouts and outfielder Faith Hensley. Infielders Charla Echols and Skylar Wallace and outfielder Kendra Falby anchor a tough Florida squad. Arkansas could challenge with slugger Hannah Gammill, infielder Kristina Foreman and pitcher Chenise Delce leading the way.

 ?? Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press ?? Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings runs during the first game of the NCAA Women’s College World Series softball championsh­ip series against Texas on June 8 in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings runs during the first game of the NCAA Women’s College World Series softball championsh­ip series against Texas on June 8 in Oklahoma City.

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