OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – After the year of the home run, the shutout is back at the Women’s College World Series.
Kelsi Dunne threw one-hit ball over six shutout innings and Kaila Hunt had an RBI single, lifting second-seeded Alabama to a 1-0 victory Thursday against California on the opening day of college softball’s championship event.
Whitney Canion (30-10) followed with a three-hit shutout, and Kelsi Kettler hit a game-ending home run just inside the left-field foul pole as Baylor beat Oklahoma State 1-0 in eight innings.
“I love to hit but I would rather pitch more, so I like seeing the low-scoring ball games,” said Canion, who’s also the Bears’ cleanup hitter.
A record was set in last year’s World Series with 35 home runs in 15 games. The championship game was a 15-9 slugfest that UCLA won against Arizona — easily the highest scoring game in World Series history and hardly similar to the event’s origins, which featured six 1-0 shutouts among the 14 games in 1982.
“To me, that’s softball — 1-0. That’s what I remember most,” Oklahoma State coach Rich Wieligman said. “A lot of times in these situations, games are lost versus games won. Today’s game, Baylor won that game.
“I think it’s fun to watch pitchers pitch and battle it out out there with the players making defensive plays, and finally something happens to get that win.”
There was a little more offense in the evening session.
Top-seeded Arizona State got a home run from Katelyn Boyd and a two-run single from Mandy Urfer to beat Oklahoma 3-1. The Sun Devils (56-6) will face Florida, which beat Missouri 6-2, and Alabama will take on Baylor in the winners’ bracket Friday night.
Elimination games Saturday will feature Cal (44-12) against Oklahoma State (42-19) and Oklahoma (41-18) against Missouri (52-9).
Kettler delivered the big hit of the opening session with just her second home run of the season off Kat Espinosa (23-9). She was a late-season replacement for injured catcher Clare Hosack, who had started 42 of Baylor’s first 58 games.
“She didn’t play all year, so then she gets her chance and it just means the world,” Baylor’s Holly Holl said. “We all know how much she wanted it and how hard she works, so to see her hard work pay off like that is really cool.”
Both Baylor and Oklahoma State had runners thrown out at the plate to keep that game scoreless going into extra innings.
Baylor right-fielder Kayce Walker couldn’t come up with the catch on a diving attempt at Alysia Hamilton’s liner in the third inning, but she got the ball in and Holl’s relay throw caught Ari Morrison at the plate.
OSU third baseman Mariah Gearhart fielded a grounder and threw out Holl at the plate in the fifth.
That kept the scoring pace far behind last year’s average of 9.4 runs per game for both teams.
“With the way hitting’s been going, pitchers have to catch up a little bit and they’ve been learning,” Wieligman said. They’ve learned how to change speeds and hit their spots a little bit better and learn to get outs.”
Alabama’s Dunne (28-4) struck out 11, walked one and allowed only an infield single by Britt Vonk in the first inning before Jackie Traina pitched a perfect seventh for her third save. The Crimson Tide (52-9) had lost their opening game in each of their previous six appearances at the World Series.
“That’s a big ol’ monkey off our back,” coach Patrick Murphy said. “It’s a long time coming. It was a great win.
“In the World Series and postseason, you have to have great pitching and great defense, and you have to come up with a timely hit and today we got all three.”
Alabama got its only run against Jolene Henderson (39-9) in the second, when Amanda Locke reached on an infield single to start the inning. She was replaced by pinch-runner Keima Davis, who stole second and third before coming in to score on Hunt’s single to left field.
“This is a huge stage,” said Hunt, a freshman. “All week, we had talked about not talking this game up. It’s just another game that we are playing, just on a bigger stage. We talked about being fearless, not being afraid of anybody.”
The Sun Devils capitalized on wildness by Sooners ace Keilani Ricketts (29-14) in the fourth, with Kaylyn Castillo drawing a leadoff walk before Annie Lockwood got hit by a pitch on her right elbow. Urfer followed Krista Donnenwirth’s sacrifice by grounding a single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Haley Nix cut the deficit in half with an RBI double for Oklahoma in the fifth before Boyd answered with leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning.
Dallas Escobedo (33-3) pitched a complete game to win her 15th straight decision for Arizona State.
In the nightcap, Megan Bush hit her 21st home run of the season and Michelle Moultrie added a solo shot as the Gators upped their NCAA-leading home run total to 112 with two in the third inning against Chelsea Thomas (31-7).
Florida took a 2-0 lead in the first inning and Missouri failed to cut into it after loading the bases in the top of the third before the Gators pounced again. Moultrie led off the bottom of the third with a homer to straightaway center, and Bush clubbed a two-run shot high into the left-field stands.
“In this arena, you’ve got to score and you’ve got to score early to kind of loosen things up,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.
Moultrie started the game with a check swing, bloop single to right field and moved up when the Tigers misplayed a popped-up bunt attempt before scoring on Kelsey Bruder’s. Missouri center-fielder Rhea Taylor couldn’t handle the rolling ball for a two-base error, putting Bruder into position to score on Brittany Schutte’s squeeze.
The Tigers didn’t get on the board until Lisa Simmons hit a two-run double in the sixth. Missouri is 0-5 in the World Series the past three years.
“The frustrating part is that we’re good enough physically to do better than what we’ve done,” coach Ehren Earleywine said. “That’s the saddest part for me is we just don’t know how to get over that hump.”
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