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Bahl, Sooners Outduel Cardinal in WCWS Opener

Oklahoma's Jordyn Bahl pitches against Stanford during the second inning of an NCAA softball Women's College World Series game Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew full-well the type of talent her top-ranked, record-setting team would face in its opener at the Women’s College World Series.

“When I saw our matchup, I’m like, ‘OK. Oh, no. Let’s go. Let’s get the machine cranking up, Let’s grease it up, make sure it (our offensive firepower) is working. They can throw that hard,’ ” Gasso said, forcing a chuckle following the Sooners’ 2-0 survival over No. 9-seeded Stanford at USA Softball Complex on Thursday afternoon.

Coming in, the jaw-dropping stat line of Cardinal true freshman pitcher NiJaree Canady was simply impossible to ignore.

A 6-foot righthander from Topeka, Kan., Canady entered with a 16-1 record and a microscopic 0.48 ERA with an astonishing 193 strikeouts in just 116.1 innings of work. She had allowed just eight earned runs and 19 walks in 29 appearances.

Top-seeded OU countered with the nation’s most powerful offense and a formidable pitching force of its own in two-time First Team All-American sophomore righthander Jordy Bahl.

As a result, the third-largest crowd (12,379) in WCWS history was treated to an old-fashioned pitching duel.

Bahl scattered five hits, struck out 11 and walked one in her complete-game shutout. It was Bahl’s 11th career double-digit strikeout game and her first in the postseason.

“Thankfully, Jordy was absolutely on her game,” Gasso said. “She was just a boss today. It was really fun to watch that, especially not getting the opportunity she wanted last year (sitting out with an injury) and just making the most of it from day one.”

Canady countered by allowing four hits and one earned run with seven strikeouts and one walk in 5.0 innings. Incredibly, the Sooners’ two runs were a season high against Canady, who left after 99 pitches.

“She has become one of the hardest-throwing, ball-moving freshmen I’ve ever seen,” Gasso said of Canady. “So I feel like we got a really tough, tough matchup. Their pitching staff is really good. They’re very disciplined. Stanford just is very well-coached, and I feel that. I felt that watching them, very disciplined, very quick. They do a lot of things really well.”

OU scored both its runs on three-time First Team All-American Jayda Coleman’s two-out, line-drive to left field in the bottom of the fifth inning with Avery Hodge at second base and Rylie Boone at first. Hodge was pinch-running for Alynah Torres, who had singled to center.

Hodge was rounding third and would have scored even if Stanford leftfielder Elle Eck had fielded Coleman’s hit cleanly. Boone dashed home for the second run as Eck chased down the ball that had gotten by her.

“I’m just glad we kept fighting and just keep grinding,” said Coleman, who opened the game with a single to center and finished 2 for 3 and the game’s lone RBI.

“I think she saw a good pitch and hit it, honestly,” Canady said of Coleman’s game-winner. “All I can do is throw each pitch to the best of my abilities. Yeah, I think she just saw the pitch.”

Canady’s fastball was in the 70s all game, with a high of 75 mph.

“She was really starting ahead (in the count),” Coleman said. “She was getting strikes. I think we realized we needed to take those pitches up in the zone. For some reason, we felt like we needed to swing at them, but we got a little bit more disciplined as the innings went on.”

OU came in leading the nation in batting average (.372), scoring (8.39 runs per game), home runs (1.92 per game), slugging percentage (.683) and on-base percentage (.462).

“Nothing they do surprises me at all,” Gasso said of her team being able to conquer Canady. “They’re always ready. They’re always talking. They’re wanting to win. They’re wanting to be great. They love doing it together. So nothing surprises me about this team.

“I will tell you there’s absolutely no overconfidence because this field of teams is loaded, and everybody who knows softball knows that.”

The Sooners (57-1) will face No. 4-seeded Tennessee (50-8) at 2 p.m. CT in a winner’s bracket game Saturday. The Volunteers defeated Alabama 10-5 in the opening game earlier Thursday.

Gasso said being severely tested in the opening round will be beneficial to the Sooners the remainder of the tournament.

“I do think a battle early — and I think we may have had one of the toughest matchups at the beginning of this World Series — it is going to pay dividends because of the fight, the fight they had all day,” Gasso said.

“This one hurts a little bit,” Stanford coach Jessica Allister said afterward. “We think we had our opportunities, but really, really proud of this group and really proud of the women to my right.”

Source: Sooner Sports