The winners of the eight Super Regionals in the NCAA Women’s Softball Championship earned a spot in the Women’s College World Series beginning Friday in Oklahoma City. Four of those teams are from the Big 12 Conference and two are from the state of Oklahoma.
Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor comprise half of the WCWS field, the first time this has happened in Big 12 history. The other four teams competing in the split-pool, double-elimination tournament are No. 1 seed Arizona State, Alabama, California and Florida. Arizona State won a national title in 2002 and the Cal Bears won it all in 2008.
The Big 12 came within one out of having five teams in the tournament. Texas A&M was up by one run over the tourney’s overall top-seed Arizona State in the home half of the seventh inning when the Sun Devils erupted for two runs to steal the victory. The Big 12 qualified eight of its 10 participating schools in softball for the NCAA Championship and five advanced to the Super Regional round.
“It frustrated me and motivated me,” said Baylor coach Glennn Moore about the lack of national recognition and respect the conference has received this year in softball. “As the season went on, it became apparent the Big 12 is the toughest it’s been in my seven years at Baylor.”
“I don’t think the experts have paid much attention to the Big 12,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “We just quietly went along, played good nonconference schedules and then beat each other up and made each other better in conference play.” Gasso’s 2000 OU team won the national championship, and the Sooners returned to the WCWS four consecutive years after that.
The four Big 12 schools are split up, with two in each of the four-team pools. No. 9-ranked Oklahoma, who plays top-seed Arizona State in its opening round game, and Missouri, featuring national Player of the Year candidate Chelsea Thomas, are in one pool. Oklahoma State and Baylor are in the other pool and will play each other in the opening round.
Missouri is the highest ranked team nationally out of the Big 12, coming into the WCWS at No. 5. The Tigers will face No. 4-ranked Florida in their first game. The final first-round game matches No. 2-ranked Alabama and California.
Big 12 softball coaches voted to discontinue the postseason conference championship tournament after the 2010 season. Ironically, this year’s WCWS constitutes a mini-Big 12 Championship with four conference teams vying for the national championship.