OKLAHOMA CITY — Sooner Magic appeared to be in the air on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma was down to its final out when Shay Knighten hit a solo home run to tie UCLA in the Sooners’ must-win game in the Women’s College World Series.
Knighten rounded the bases with her arms held high. OU’s Patty Gasso displayed emotion from the third-base coaching box. A USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium crowd filled with crimson-and-cream clad fans was delirious.
In a matter of minutes, though, the party was over. Kinsley Washington hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh inning to boost UCLA to a 5-4 victory and a national championship.
It was an abrupt end to the careers of OU seniors cherished by their loyal fans.
Knighten. Caleigh Clifton. Sydney Romero. Falepolima Aviu. The starters were among a class that went 232-28 over the past four years while capturing two national championships. They only lost consecutive games three times during that span. The ones that hurt the most were the past two games against the Bruins.
“Just understanding what these seniors have done, absolutely crazy,” Gasso said. “They won as freshman. They won as sophomores, the national championship. They finished fourth as juniors. They were one hit away from potentially winning it again.
“This is the best senior class we’ve ever had. It’s very evident. Every single one of them here.”
The veterans were charged with bringing their team back from a disappointing 16-3 loss to the Bruins in the opening game of the best-of-3 series.
The start wasn’t particularly kind to Oklahoma starter Giselle Juarez.
UCLA’s first two hitters – Bubba Nickles and Briana Perez – hit 1-0 pitches for home runs. Just like that, the Bruins nabbed a 2-0 lead.
It was the type of beginning that likely made OU fans' stomachs a bit queasy. Monday’s 13-run loss was likely still fresh in their minds.
Romero perked the fans up in the third inning with a solo home run. It was her team-high 20th of the season.
UCLA quickly answered when Aaliyah Jordan slammed a home run to extend the Bruins’ lead to 3-1.
Oklahoma’s bottom portion of the order came through in the fourth inning. Nicole Mendes, Aviu, Lynnsie Elam and Grace Lyons strung together four consecutive hits against UCLA starter Rachel Garcia to help tie the game at 3.
“We had probably one of the worst games that we’ve ever played,” Gasso said. “To come back the way that we did, I couldn’t be more proud of this group. They fought their tails off. We played an unbelievable, outstanding team. They are solid top to bottom in their lineup. They’ve got a phenomenal pitcher on the mound. They’re very well-coached.
“They’re on a mission. We’re on a mission. But what we did today I’ll never forget.”
UCLA hit four solo home runs in Tuesday’s contest, with all seemingly providing parting shots to the Sooners’ season.
Brianna Tautalafua hammered Juarez’s 0-1 pitch into the left-field stands to give the Bruins a 4-3 advantage in the fifth inning.
Oklahoma (57-6) couldn’t string together hits and its hopes were on life support when Knighten approached the plate.
The senior lofted a 2-1 pitch into the left-field stands to tie the game at 4.
“To be able to run the bases, see Sooner Nation, my teammates so happy and so excited. It has to rank at the top,” Knighten said.
Added Gasso: “I know I got very animated. I was fired up. I don’t really show too much emotion, but I think I went off on that one.”
In the bottom of the seventh, UCLA's Colleen Sullivan reached first base on a fielder’s choice with two outs and moved to second base on a wild pitch. Jacqui Prober entered as a pinch runner to set up Washington’s heroics.
The second baseman hit a single to left field and Prober beat Aviu’s throw from left field to set off a UCLA celebration.
Washington welcomed the dogpile.
“It was really exciting, also terrifying,” she said with a laugh. “I was at the very bottom, 22 girls breaking my shoulders. But it was all worth it.”
Oklahoma lost consecutive games for the only time this season and ends at 57-6. It was a season that included a school-record 41-game winning streak.
Clifton summed up her career.
“It’s special. It’s something that I dreamed of ever since I was a little kid,” said Clifton, who is from Wayne. “I came to the World Series. I was a fan of Coach Gasso, this coaching staff. It’s special. I got to live it for four years. I’m thankful and very blessed for this opportunity to be here.
“I’ll say it again. The senior class is so special. I’m very, very thankful that we got to share it all together.”
UCLA 5, OKLAHOMA 4
Oklahoma 001 200 1 — 4 8 1
UCLA 201 010 1 — 5 10 0
Juarez and Elam; Garcia and Halstead. HR: Nickles (18); Perez (7); Jordan (13); Romero (20); Tautalafua (5); Knighten (10). W: Garcia (29-1) L: Juarez (28-4)