The Big 12 is sending two teams to the Women’s College World Series for the second straight year, and has been represented by at least one team in the Final Eight of the national softball championship in every season since 2000.
Defending national champion Oklahoma is returning to the Big Show at in Oklahoma City in hopes of defending its 2013 title and making its fourth consecutive Women’s World Series appearance. Baylor, the winner of the Georgia Super Regional this past weekend, is back in the WCWS for the third time since 2009.
The Baylor Lady Bears (47-14), the second highest seed among the final eight teams, at No. 13, open up the 2014 Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, where they will face No. 5 seed Florida (50-12) in the first game on Thursday morning. Oklahoma is the No, 7 seed, and the Lady Sooners will play the final game of the opening day against No, 2 Alabama. Both teams have identical 50-11 season records.
The Sooners and Crimson Tide met in the championship final in the 2012 Women’s College World Series, with Alabama taking the national title with a 5-4 victory in the third and deciding game.
Baylor had a little easier time in the Super Regionals, outscoring the host Georgia Lady Bulldogs 15-4 in sweeping the two games on the road. The Lady Sooners were extended to three games in their Super Regional with Tennessee before rebounding from a game two loss to pull out an 8-2 win before the home crowd in Norman in the series final on Sunday.
The last trip the Lady Bears made to the Women’s College World Series, in 2011, was also via a Georgia Super Regional championship.
Oklahoma is making its ninth WCWS appearance all-time. The Sooners are the fifth highest-seeded team in this year’s double-elimination championship round. The Sooners are the No, 7 seed. Besides two-seed Alabama, No. 1 Oregon, No. 5 Florida and No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette are also seeded higher than Oklahoma this time around. OU was the top seed overall in the 2013 WCWS and it was No, 4 in 2012.
Baylor’s hopes in this year’s WCWS heavily ride on the shoulders of pitcher Whitney Canion, the Big 12’s leading pitcher this season. Canion has a league-leading ERA of 1.40 and 31 wins this season, which she also achieved in 2011 and ties the all-time best for a Baylor pitcher. Another key to the Lady Bears’ success in the Series is the performance of right-fielder Kaitlyn Thurmann in the leadoff position in the lineup. Thurmann leads the Baylor starters with a .387 season batting average.
Oklahoma’s Kelsey Stevens also had a superb season in the pitching circle, winning 37 games against eight losses. As OU’s potent, power-laden offense goes, though, so go the Lady Sooners. Oklahoma has slugged a conference-leading 87 home runs this year. They need that to continue in their WCWS opener against Alabama.
Before suffering a second-game loss to Tennessee on Saturday in the Norman Super Regional, Oklahoma had won 16 consecutive games.
The winner of opening round game between Baylor and Florida will play either No. 1 Oregon or No, 8 Florida State on Friday night. The losers will play on Saturday morning. An Oklahoma win on Thursday night would advance the defending champions to a winner’s-bracket contest on Friday against the winner between No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 14 Kentucky, the highest-seeded team in the WCWS this year. The losers on that side of the bracket will meet in an elimination game on Saturday.
Twenty-six Big 12 teams have competed in the Women’s College World Series since the first year of the conference in 1996. Only one team from the conference has won the national title in softball in the Big 12 era. Oklahoma won it twice: in 2000 and again last year.