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Sooners drop opener

OKLAHOMA CITY — By proving games are won on the field and not on the stat sheet, Florida State is now one win away from claiming its second Women’s College World Series championship since 2018.

The Seminoles entered Game One of the best-of-three championship series batting .260 as a team with a modest .404 slugging percentage and 45 home runs in 60 games.

Oklahoma countered with the most prolific offensive team in Division I history, batting .410 as a team with a .789 slugging percentage, 155 homers, 623 runs scored (10.9 per game) and 35 run-rule victories in 57 games.

What transpired Tuesday night was a game of role reversal as 10th-seeded FSU jumped on top-seeded OU for a 7-0 lead and went on to post an 8-4 victory before a championship series record crowd of 12,173 at USA Softball Stadium.

Game Two is at 6 p.m. Wednesday and the Sooners (54-4) must win two straight games to claim their fifth national championship since 2000.

OU has not lost to the same team twice this season. “Whenever we lose, we don’t lose again and I think we’re ready,” Sooners senior rightfielder Nicole Mendes said of winning Game Two.

The Seminoles (49-11-1) did to OU what they have done to opponents all season long. What they lack offensively they offset by making clutch defensive plays and using remarkable team speed to apply pressure on the basepaths with hit-and-runs and stolen bases. FSU has now stolen an astonishing 117 bases in 132 attempts, including 3-for-3 in Game One.

Meanwhile, the Sooners have been hampered with slow starts the entire WCWS.

“You can’t wait,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said. “You can’t sit back and wait. And when you’re on a stage like this, you just gotta play well. You gotta pitch well. You gotta hit well. You gotta do a lot of things well. We didn’t do much of that very well. We had signs of it. We were creating a little bit of momentum. But the beauty of this series is that you have another day, and we learned again — kind of reminded me a little bit of what happened to us as we started this tournament. We just wasted time, not quite ready, not very loose in the way of swinging. Now, not taking away anything from Florida State. They just stuck it to us, bottom line.”

Before the top of the OU lineup had gotten their second at-bats, Gasso already had inserted seldom-used sophomore Olivia Rains for freshman starter Nicole May (15-2), who surrendered seven runs (all earned) on seven hits, with three walks and three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

“We thought (May) could move the ball around a little bit and mix some speeds and kind of keep the ball down, and she plays good defense,” Gasso said. “Florida State does a lot of short game, a lot of hit-and-run, run-and-hit type action. I thought Nicole would handle that well. That was what went into that decision.”

Senior righthander Shannon Saile relieved Rains and pitched the final three innings, giving up one unearned run on three hits with two strikeouts, three walks and a wild pitch.

“That’s another thing that we probably should have done a better job of. We just didn’t want to show all of our hand too early,” Gasso said of leaving May in too long. “We wanted to get ourselves back in the game. And if we could have done it over, I know we would have done it a little bit different in the way of bringing in Shannon. But Giselle (Juarez) was the one that was hot in the bullpen, and that didn’t make sense for us (since she is starting Game Two). We were trying to get Shannon ready as quickly as we could.”

Trailing 7-0 with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, The Sooners’ first two hits were solo homers from Kenzie Hansen and Mendes on back-to-back pitches to pull to within 7-2. (In the process, it pushed OU’s season total of home runs to 157, one shy of the Division I record set by Hawaii in 2010.)

“We just took too long to respond,” Mendes said.

After stranding two baserunners in the fifth inning, the Sooners narrowed the deficit to 7-4 in the sixth on Mackenzie Donihoo’s two-out single down the right-field line that drove in two runs.

Trailing 8-4 in its final at-bat, Tiare Jennings singled up the middle with one out. Joceyln Alo then doubled to right-center and Gasso sent Jennings home rather than holding her at third base. Jennings wound up being thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay throw.

“I made a horrific call, and I own that,” Gasso said. “I should not have sent Tiare. I just really in my mind was wanting to push the envelope to create momentum. What I didn’t do a good job of was knowing who was coming up, two hitters up. I don’t know. I wear that. I already apologized to the team and that was a bad call by me. But at the same time, they make a great play, so they earned that. But I’m going to hold onto that for a while.”

FSU drew six walks while the Sooners drew none.

“The fact that we gave up six walks really hurt us,” Gasso said. “We didn’t pitch well. Not good enough. We didn’t play good enough D, like nothing for us was really good tonight. Again, I think as a coaching staff, we would have done a few things quite differently. Me especially.”

Junior righthander Danielle Watson (12-1), the Seminoles’ No. 3 starter, wound up surrendering four runs (all earned) on six hits and collected five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

When OU made solid contact, the ball often went directly at defenders in the form of four line-drive outs.

“I choose this team no matter what,” Mendes said. “This team is one of the most talented teams that I’ve ever been a part of and we know how to fight. … I know who is on my team. I know who is in my lineup. I know who can come in and pinch-hit and who is in our bullpen and I see that and I’m, like, ‘This is the team I want to go with. This is the team that can do it.’ ”

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