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Everything you need to know about the 2024 Women’s College World Series

by News7

Just over two weeks ago, 64 teams heard their names called for the 2024 NCAA softball tournament. After 121 games, with the regional and super regional rounds concluding, the field of eight teams who will battle for the Women’s College World Series title is set.

How did they get here and what are their chances as they get started in Oklahoma City?

Game 1: No. 14 Alabama Crimson Tide vs No. 6 UCLA Bruins
The first two rounds of the tournament largely went according to seed. Only two nationally unseeded teams advanced out of regionals. In super regionals, only two teams pulled off the upset of a host. Alabama was one of those teams.

The Crimson Tide are the lowest-seed team to make the field this season. They get the reward of playing a team that is on a 13-game winning streak.

The closest anyone has played UCLA this postseason is Virginia Tech in its 7-6 loss at Easton Stadium. Otherwise, the Bruins have used the one-two punch of a powerful offense and a talented young pitching staff to dominate. They have outscored their opponents 39-8 in five regional and super regional games.

Alabama has had to fight through close, low-scoring affairs for much of the season and postseason. They have scored 232 runs in 56 games this season. They will face a team that has scored 321 runs in 52 games. The offensive punch the Bruins bring can quickly overwhelm an opponent.

Youth might be the Bruins’ Achilles given that they feature a sophomore and a freshman in the circle. UCLA’s staff ERA of 3.54 lags well behind the Tide’s 1.89.

Alabama has shown it isn’t afraid of anyone. It took three games, but it ended the season of fellow SEC team Tennessee at the Knoxville Super Regional. The No. 3 Lady Vols were the highest-seeded team to miss the WCWS. This will be the strongest offense it has faced this postseason, though, so Kayla Beaver will likely be the key to any hopes of avoiding the losers’ bracket.

The loser of this game faces the loser of Game 2 in an elimination contest on Friday. The winner plays the winner of Game 2 on Saturday.

Game 2: No. 10 Duke Blue Devils vs No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners
This side of the bracket got both teams that won a super regional on the road. Many people thought Duke should have been a top eight seed. The Blue Devils took the disappointment and used it as fuel.

Duke swept its home regional then went on the road to face No. 7 Missouri. The Blue Devils looked locked in, winning the opening game 6-3. The Tigers fought back, taking the second game to force the “if necessary” on Sunday.

Neither team scored for the first eight innings of the decider. Duke broke through with four runs in the top of the ninth. Missouri responded in the bottom of the frame but came up just short in a 4-3 loss.

The Blue Devils will need the same kind of fight if they hope to relegate Oklahoma to the elimination game. The Sooners are playing in their second home roughly 30 minutes from Love’s Field. They’re good enough that they don’t need that advantage to win a historic fourth straight title.

Oklahoma quickly dismissed Florida State in the Norman Super Regional to go 5-0 in the first two rounds. Duke poses a bigger challenge, though.

The Blue Devils have a team batting average of .326. Meanwhile, their pitching staff has an ERA of 1.53 and a WHIP of 0.94. Three of the five Duke pitchers have an ERA of 1.70 or less. Opponents hit just .184 off the group.

The Sooners have a very strong offense. Their pitching is not as strong as it has been in recent years, but that just means it’s ranked sixth in ERA instead of at the top.

Their .366 batting average is second in the country, but during the regular season, they couldn’t overcome the strong pitching of Texas and Oklahoma State. They went 2-4 against those teams, who sport the ninth and 12th-best ERA. Duke is ranked third.

It’s true that, as a conference, the ACC was not ranked as highly as the Big 12 this year. The selection committee chair cited it as a reason the Blue Devils did not get to host super regionals. In the postseason, they have shown that it doesn’t matter. They just haven’t faced the three-time defending champions yet.

The winner gets to take Friday off before facing the winner of Game 1 on Saturday. The loser goes to an elimination game against the loser of Game 2 on Friday.

Game 3: No. 8 Stanford Cardinal vs No. 1 Texas Longhorns
Neither of these teams had an easy go of it in super regionals. Both immediately had their backs against the wall after dropping the opening games at home.

For Stanford, it was especially concerning to see its ace get dominated. The Cardinal were run-ruled by LSU in the opener. The Tigers gave them an 11-1 shellacking in five innings courtesy of an eight-run top of the fifth. It was alarming for the Cardinal to have NiJaree Canady knocked out of the game after LSU put up six runs (five earned) on her in just four innings.

Texas lost a close one to Texas A&M to open the Austin Super Regional, and it wasn’t the end of the difficulties. The Aggies looked to be on their way to sweeping the Longhorns out of the tournament with a 5-1 lead after the fifth inning of game two. A five-run sixth inning changed that. UT went into the bottom of the seventh with a three-run lead, but TAMU put three up to force extras. It took nine innings for the host team to win and force the extra game.

It’s tough to beat a top team twice in a row on its home field, and TAMU couldn’t get it done despite taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. The Aggies made a game effort, coming back from a 6-2 deficit to pull within one in the top of the seventh, but the Longhorns got through to OKC by the hair of their teeth.

Stanford rebounded well after the big loss in its opener, including run-ruling LSU in the series final. Texas had to withstand a strong effort by TAMU in all three games. The question is if that was a harbinger of things to come or just a bump on the road for the Longhorns.

The winner of this game will sit until Saturday when it faces the winner of Game 4. The loser plays at least once on Friday beginning with going up against the loser of Game 4.

Game 4: No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowgirls vs No. 4 Florida Gators
Oklahoma State gave Arizona no quarter in the Stillwater Super Regional. If anyone had doubts about how dominant the Cowgirls are both in the circle and the batter’s box, this postseason should have put them to rest. OSU has outscored its opponents 34-7 through its first five games.

Florida was one of the super regional hosts that got pushed by the visitor last weekend. Like Oklahoma State, the Gators were facing one of two unseeded teams that advanced out of regionals. Unlike OSU, Florida found its unseeded opponent was up to the task.

All three games in Gainesville were close. The Gators got things off on the right foot with a 4-2 win in the opener, but Baylor didn’t fold. The Bears jumped ahead 3-0 after the first and ended with the same three-run margin in a 5-2 win. Early leads proved to be the key again in the deciding game as Florida took a 4-0 lead after two innings and rode it to a 5-3 win.

Conventional wisdom is that knowing how to win close games is key the tougher the competition gets. If that’s true, Florida is in a good spot. The Gators have shown the mental toughness to come out on top even when things get tight.

In the other dugout, the Cowgirls may not have to worry about tight competition. That’s always a possibility when you have an ace like Lexi Kilfoyl and an offense that hits 1.56 home runs per game.

Florida has a solid pitching staff, but its 2.78 staff ERA ranks 49th in Division I. OSU has faced some of the best pitching staffs in the country and come out victorious.

The Cowgirls also know they can beat this team. Florida and OSU played to a 3-0 Cowgirl win in Gainesville on Feb. 19.

Anything can happen on any given day, though. Oklahoma State also remembers losing two out of three games to Iowa State this season.

The winner of this game plays the winner of Stanford vs Texas. The loser faces the loser of that game to stave off elimination.

Source : SBNation

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