Oklahoma must go through one of the nation’s best players in Clemson’s Valerie Cagle to make softball history.
The top-seeded Sooners are on a 46-game win streak heading into Friday’s super regional opener – one victory short of matching Arizona’s Division I record set during the 1996-97 season.
Cagle, one of three finalists for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, stands in the way. She has a 25-6 record with a 1.01 earned-run average and 186 strikeouts in 186 innings. She also is hitting .467 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs
If the Sooners win two straight against the Tigers, they will have the record to themselves and will advance to next week’s Women’s College World Series. Even if they drop a game, they can still advance by winning two of three to earn a shot at winning a third consecutive national title.
In the Clemson Regional last Saturday, Cagle got the win in a one-hitter against Auburn and had two hits and a home run. The next day, she gave up four hits and no earned runs against Auburn in the 5-1 victory that clinched a spot in the super regional.
Oklahoma rolled through its regional, defeating Hofstra 11-0, Missouri 11-0 and California 16-3 to advance.
Clemson is trying to make some history, too. Clemson is completing just its third full season of softball and has never been to the World Series. The Tigers' inaugural season was 2020, but it was shortened due to the pandemic. Clemson has reached the NCAA Tournament the past three years and reached super regionals last year before losing to Oklahoma State.
Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t get the regional host bid despite its No. 11 RPI ranking, but the Ragin’ Cajuns sure got the results.
Louisiana-Lafayette, a Sun Belt Conference team, won the Baton Rouge Regional, defeating Omaha, then host LSU twice to advance. In the clinching win, Lousiana-Lafayette rallied and scored two runs in the seventh inning to defeat LSU, 9-8.
Louisiana-Lafayette now faces No. 7 seed Washington in the double-elimination Seattle Regional for the right to play in the Women’s College World Series.
Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts hyperextended her left leg during the SEC Tournament, and coach Patrick Murphy played it safe with her in regionals.
Fouts, who leads the nation with 311 strikeouts, was deemed available but did not play.
“It was a possibility to use Montana,” Murphy said after the clincher against Middle Tennessee State. “I’ve never had this situation. There’s not a coaching 101 that has this situation in it. We’ve been through lots of stuff, but never this situation."
Jaala Torrence stepped up in Fouts' place to help the fifth-seeded Crimson Tide advance.
The Pac-12 still has four teams remaining — the most of any conference.
Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Utah all won their regionals. In super regionals, No. 9 seed Stanford will face No. 8 seed Duke; No. 15 seed Utah will host San Diego State; No. 7 Washington will host Louisiana-Lafayette; and Oregon will visit No. 6 seed Oklahoma State.
The Big 12 has three teams left in Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. Texas has a tough road — the Longhorns will face No. 4 seed Tennessee in super regionals. But Texas never played a home game last year in NCAA Tournament play and reached the World Series finals.
The ACC has Florida State, Clemson and Duke remaining. Florida State, the No. 3 seed, will face Georgia, one of three SEC teams remaining along with Alabama and Tennessee. .
Northwestern is the only Big Ten team remaining and Louisiana-Lafayette is the only member of the Sun Belt left. San Diego State, the only Mountain West Conference team remaining, won the Los Angeles Regional.
The other two finalists for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year were eliminated in regionals.
UCLA’s Maya Brady finished the season with a .448 batting average, 18 home runs and 59 RBIs. Her second-seeded Bruins were knocked out in regionals after losing to Grand Canyon and Liberty.
Florida’s Skylar Wallace also is out after Stanford beat the Gators twice. Wallace finished the season with a .447 average, 19 home runs a nd 55 RBIs.
___ Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP