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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Greatest Game Ever Played: WCWS Championship Series Game 1 Recap

The game of softball has seen some doozies over time. Games with offensive power shows, pitching duels, walk-off wins. But Game 1 of the 2017 Women's College World Series Championship Series may just take the cake as the greatest game to ever be played on a college softball diamond.

Undoubtedly the finest in Women's College World Series history, it was not just the game's 17-inning marathon length that puts it in the laurels of the game's history as a whole.

The Gators got the scoring going in the bottom of the fourth; after Nicole DeWitt doubled, Aleshia Ocasio continued her impressive WCWS with an RBI single that scored DeWitt from second. Oklahoma quickly answered in the next half-inning, in nearly identical fashion. Nicole Pendley doubled on a ball that tracked similarly to DeWitt's double, later scoring on an RBI single from Sydney Romero. The similarities in scoring methods illustrated early in the game just how even-matched the two teams are.

The Sooners took their second come-from-behind lead of the week in the sixth inning on a solo home run from freshman Nicole Mendes. For the rookie, it was her sixth home run of the season. 

In the bottom of the seventh, the Gators were down to their last strike before freshman Sophia Reynoso's double scored Ocasio to send the game to extras.

In a game that was widely considered to be all about the pitching, neither team disappointed in that regard. The two Paiges split time in the circle for Oklahoma, with Paige Lowary earning the start and later coming back in in the 12th inning after Paige Parker threw 6.2 innings from the fifth inning onward.

The eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings all went by scoreless, as the game once again settled into a bonafide pitcher's duel.

In the 12th inning, things got interesting again. Oklahoma's Fale Aviu, with a runner on, cranked a two-run home run that gave the Sooners the 4-2 lead. In the bottom half of the frame, however, the Gators put two runners on and Paige Lowary came back in to close the game with two outs and Amanda Lorenz at the plate.

For the second time, the Gators were down to their final strike when a long fly ball into the outfield was misplayed by two Sooner defenders and two runs came in to score for Florida to once-again tie the ballgame.

Oklahoma's Shay Knighten, the hero of Game 1
As the game continued on, eventually passing the four-hour, then five-hour mark and setting a new all-time Championship Series record for the longest game, the duel in the circle continued. Even with an occasional "jam" here and there, Lowary and her Gator counterpart - first Delanie Gourley, then Kelly Barnhill re-entering late - continued their mastery over opposing hitters.

In the 17th inning, the Sooners put two runners on and Shay Knighten - who also hit a memorable home run in the championship series a year ago - put another one over the wall for a three-run shot that gave her team their largest lead of the night.

In the bottom of the frame, the Gators did not go quietly, scoring one on a Lorenz sacrifice fly. Down to their last strike for the third time of the evening, it wasn't meant to be this time, as Kayli Kvistad struck out swinging to end the marathon game.

At an official length of five hours and twenty-eight minutes, the game was the second-longest in Women's College World Series history, coming in just forty-five minutes shy of the legendary 1984 Texas A&M/Cal Poly matchup that went for 25 innings. The announced crowd for the evening was 8,337, a session record.

GAME NOTES

- Props where they're due to home plate umpire Bryan Smith. Despite an apparent hand injury from early on in the game, he maintained sharp control of the game and maintained his composure, a seeming rarity from the blue this week.

- According to the stadium radar gun, Paige Lowary was continually throwing in the mid-70s, even in the 16th and 17th innings. The final pitch to strike out Kvistad and end the game was clocked at 73mph.

- Kelly Barnhill's five earned runs in the game were the most she's given up in a game this season; the number is more than 50% of her regular season total of nine 
earned runs.

- Oklahoma's twenty-six offensive strikeouts were the most ever in a Women's College World Series game, smashing the previous record of nineteen, set in 2001. Gourley and Barnhill accounted for thirteen punchouts a piece from the circle.

- Tim Walton used seven players off of his bench, leaving just one - freshman Katie Chronister - by game's end. Patty Gasso left four players unused in the game, including freshman pitcher Mariah Lopez.

- The international tiebreaker - where the batter who made the last out of the previous inning starts the new inning as a "free runner" at second base - is not in place for the championship series.

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