By CORBIN HOSLER
NORMAN — It’s likely that every team heading into Thursday’s first day of play at the Women’s College World Series thinks it has a chance to take down the national title.
Certainly top-ranked OU does. The Sooners (52-4) have expected to win this year’s title ever since walking off the field having lost to Alabama in last year’s title game. And as the Sooners have dominated throughout this season, others have come to expect it as well. OU is undoubtedly the favorite to win it all, but the Sooners aren’t the only team to believe they will.
Of the other seven, it’s likely Florida that can stake the next-best claim to the title. The Gators (57-7) have been ranked second for much of the second half of the season and entered the postseason as the No. 2 overall seed. Florida finished SEC play 18-6 and won the SEC tournament heading into regional play. The Gators have won eight in a row and outscored their opponents 59-18 in that span heading into their fifth World Series in six years under coach Tim Walton.
And they’ve proven they can win tight ballgames. Facing an upstart UAB program in the Super Regional last weekend, the Gators found themselves down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh in the first game before rallying for first the tying run and then the winning run on Katie Medina’s walk-off RBI single. It was the sixth walk-off victory for Florida this season and propelled them to victory in the next game of the series, a 1-0 decision in which ace Hannah Rogers threw a complete game and gave up just four hits to punch the Gators’ ticket to Oklahoma City.
But Florida hasn’t come to Oklahoma City viewing themselves as a favorite to win the title. In fact, the Gators have taken the opposite stance.
“It’s a completely different feeling,” Walton said. “Even though we’re the Florida Gators, we’ve played as an underdog all season. It’s a very special feeling. They don’t understand what they’ve accomplished in a short period of time.”
Florida and Oklahoma could be on a collision course to meet in the championship best-of-three series if the brackets play out according to seeding. And the Gators arguably have the better side of the bracket, with no team seeded higher than seventh in their way. OU, by contrast, will have to go through eighth-seeded Michigan before meeting four-seed Texas or five-seed Arizona State.
But first Florida must go through familiar SEC foe Tennessee, a squad that the Gators have plenty of experience against this season. They’ve also found some success against the Volunteers, though none of it has come easily.
Florida and Tennessee met in Gainesville in March and played three classics. All three contests went into extra innings, with Florida taking the first game of the series before dropping the second and coming from behind to take the deciding game.
The biggest challenge for the Gators may be one of experience. Though Florida has made a habit of going to the World Series, the Gators have done it this season with a roster full of freshmen.
“We’re going to the Women’s College World Series,” said Kelsey Stewart, one of six freshmen on the roster. “It does seem surreal. Except that it’s real.”
Women’s College World Series schedule
(All games broadcast on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU).
Game 1: Nebraska vs. Washington, 11 a.m.
Game 2: Tennessee vs. Florida, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: Arizona State vs. Texas, 6 p.m.
Game 4: Michigan vs. Oklahoma, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser, 11 a.m.
Game 8: Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser, 1:30 p.m.
Game 9: Game 7 Loser vs. Game 6 Loser, 6 p.m.
Game 10: Game 8 Loser vs. Game 5 Loser, 8:30 p.m.
Game 11: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner, Noon
Game 12: Game 10 Winner v. Game 6 Winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 13: Game 11 rematch if necessary, 6 p.m.
Game 14: Game 12 rematch if necessary, 8:30 p.m.
Game 1: Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Game 2: Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: June 5, 7 p.m., ESPN (if necessary)