NORMAN — The Oklahoma softball team has hammered the second-most home runs in Division I history so far this season, but it was a round-tripper of another kind that has put the top-seeded Sooners one victory away from their 14th Women’s College World Series appearance.
Catcher Kinzie Hansen hit a ground ball up the middle that found its way between the legs of a charging centerfielder and eventually rolled all the way to the outfield wall. A hustling Hansen turned her single into an inside-the-park home run that proved to be the difference in OU’s 4-2 victory over Washington in Game One of the NCAA Norman Super Regional before an overflow crowd of 1,758 at Marita Hynes Field.
Hansen admitted she is not fleet of foot, but that didn’t slow her down while rounding the bases.
“I’ve never hit an inside-the-park home run,” Hansen said with a chuckle. “I know that to the eye, and to everybody – including my teammates – I do not look like the fastest (runner). I get that. But I will say when the ball went to the wall, in my head I was like, ‘I’m getting a triple.’ I don’t even hit that many triples, but I was like, ‘I’m going to shift into fifth gear. I’m getting to third right now.’ I’m ready to dive into third, and coach sent me … and I was like, ‘Oh, no way,’ so I just had to downshift into a different gear, you know. Those two runs were big for us.”
In quest of their fifth national title, the Sooners (49-2) can clinch a WCWS spot by winning Game Two in this best-of-three series on Saturday at 2 p.m. If Game Three is necessary, it will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Hansen also was a key cog in the success of true freshman righthander Nicole May, who awoke Friday morning not knowing she would get the starting nod.
“Full faith,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said of the decision to start May. “If we didn’t, I would never have done it. … Her competitive spirit, and her stuff has gotten really good, and she’s been in these big moments, and we weren’t afraid of it.”
May responded by going the distance, scattering seven hits, striking out five and walking none. Despite surrendering a pair of solo home runs, May calmly finished each inning with superb control.
“I knew she was going to be lights out” Hansen said of May (14-1). “Her demeanor and mentality coming into this game was great.”
It was May’s first start since April 18 against Texas.
“I’m really proud of Nicole May and her efforts today,” Gasso said.
Asked if she felt at ease, May said, “I came out and I felt really confident in my pitches. Warming up, I felt good. I was like, ‘What do I have to lose? Might as well go all out.’ “
Additionally, Hansen made a crucial play in the top of the fourth inning, throwing out Sami Reynolds at second base on a steal attempt with OU clinging to a 2-1 lead.
The Sooners struck out only twice against Huskies ace Gabbie Plain (32-4), one of three finalists for National player of the year.
“We faced a very, very tough pitcher. It’s obvious,” Gasso said of Plain. “You just don’t understand once you study it, how tough she is to hit. … She’s just really, really good.”
Designated player Jocelyn Alo, also a national player of the year finalist, gave the Sooners a 2-1 lead with a solo shot to left-center in the third inning for OU’s 143rd home run of the season.
After Alo opened the decisive fifth inning with a walk, Rylie Boone was inserted as a pinch-runner. Boone advanced to second on Jayda Coleman’s ground-out to third. Boone would have scored on Hansen’s single. Instead, OU was able to push its lead to 4-1 following Jadelyn Allchin’s error in center. The play officially was scored a single with a three-base error.
Kelley Lynch hit a solo home run in the top of the seventh to pull the Huskies (45-13) to within 4-2. Ashley reached on an error and Sarah Willis singled to put runners on first and second with one out.
On the game’s final sequence, Allchin grounded to second baseman Tiare Jennings, who tossed to shortstop Grace Lyons for the force at second. Lyons’ throw to first was high, however. Taylon Snow jumped to catch the ball, turned and fired a strike to Hansen, who tagged out Taryn Atlee at the plate to end the game.
“Throughout the whole year, we work on things (defensively). It’s just chaos,” Hansen explained. “We put our fastest runners on the bases and we just tell them to be aggressive out of their minds. So when she (Atlee) came home, it wasn’t something we weren’t prepared for. Taylon threw right to my glove. It was a great throw.”
The Sooners committed two errors after entering the game with just 15 in 50 games. “We came through when we needed to,” Gasso said of her team’s defense.
Oklahoma has homered in 49 of its 51 games and brings its season total to 143 on the year. Alo’s blast marked her 83rd career home run, putting her within 12 of the all-time NCAA record. Her 29 homers is one shy of the OU single-game record that she set herself in 2018, along with 2015 alum Lauren Chamberlain hitting the mark twice (2012, ’13).
Game two will become the first softball game ever shown on ABC at 2 p.m. CT Saturday.
The game can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma and nationwide on the TuneIn app with OU play-by-play announcer Chris Plank calling the action.
For updates and more information on Oklahoma softball, follow the Sooners on Twitter and Instagram (@OU_Softball) and like Oklahoma Softball on Facebook.
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