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Harry Fodder: 2024 WCWS Primer

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Florida Gators were the runaway best-hitting team in the Southeastern Conference during the 2024 season, with their collective average of .337 easily out-distancing the next-best team, Texas A&M, which checked in at .306. UF’s explosive offense helped get the program back to the Women’s College World Series. 
 
But guess what? The Gators are the third-best hitting team in the field of eight at the WCWS, well behind Texas (.379) and Oklahoma (.366), the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 and 2 overall seeds, respectively. Yeah, yeah, yeah. UT and OU are joining the SEC next season. Everyone knows that, but but it’s a conversation for another day. 
 

What matters is the here and now, as in Thursday night, when fourth-seeded Florida (51-13) faces fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (47-10) in their WCWS opener at Devon Park. The Gators and Cowgirls played earlier this season in Gainesville, where OSU won 3-0 behind an excellent performance from ace Lexi Kilfoyl, who held UF to three hits. OSU managed only two hits off Gators’ freshman Keagan Rothrock, but one was a three-run homer. 
 
Those two pitchers will be in the circle for the rematch, but with much higher stakes. 
 
 “We’ll have a better game plan than the last time we played them,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. 

THURSDAY’S FIRST-ROUND WCWS GAMES 








Time (ET) Game TV
1 p.m.  Alabama vs UCLA ESPN
3:30 p.m. Duke vs Oklahoma ESPN
7 p.m. Texas vs Stanford ESPN2
9:30 p.m. Florida vs Oklahoma State ESPN2

Florida needs that SEC-best offense to get going, especially after struggling at the plate in last week’s three-game Super Regional against Baylor. Against the Bears, UF hit just .229 as a team and averaged 3.7 runs, more than half their 8.0 per-game-average. 
 
For the Gators, it all starts at top half of the order, but that’s also where they hit a wall in the Baylor series. Kendra Falby, the All-SEC center fielder who Walton has always said is the key to the offense, went 0-for-11 and is just 5-for-31 in the postseason. Korbe Otis, who led the league in hitting (.449), was 1-for-7. Shortstop Skylar Wallace continued her postseason tear by going 5-for-8, while clean-up batter Jocelyn Erickson, the league leader in RBI (and second nationally), was 1-for-6 and plated just one run. 
 

Kendra Falby

So outside Wallace, three of the first UF hitters were 2-for-24. With Wallace, they were 7-for-32, with just five runs scored and two RBI combined in the Super. 

Not so Super.  

 

Here’s a random-but-telling stat: When Falby and Wallace score in a game, the Gators are 29-1 on the season. 

 

So UF needs traffic at the top of the order. The alternative (or something similar to the Super series) likely will mean a short stay in OKC. 

 

“We won 51 games. We’ve had a really good season, so I don’t know if we want to make too many changes and make an appearance like we’re panicking,” Walton said. 

 

The UF coach has been down this road before. He’s had conversations with his players about, for example, flipping spots in lineup – “Hey Kendra, do you want to get out of the leadoff spot? We can maybe move Skylar up to set the tone for the game?” – or perhaps just fine-turning technique and points-of-emphasis in the cage. Whatever the Gators’ staff thought it needed to do to get their players’ minds right, they did this week. For that, the Gators should be confident.

 

Because whatever they did over the course of the season was good enough to get them here among the best still standing. 

 

Below is a look at eight teams remaining in the 2024 WCWS field (in order of their overall tournament seed).  

 

TEXAS 

Big 12 Player of the Year Reese Atwood

Seed: 1
Record: 52-8
Coach: Mike White (257-79-2, sixth season) 
Road to OKC: Won home regional over Sienna and Northwestern (twice) in three games, then rallied from a game down to defeat rival Texas A&M in Austin Super. 
Record vs WCWS field:  6-3 (Defeated UCLA twice on the road and Stanford once at neutral site; lost two of three at Oklahoma State and won two of three against Oklahoma during Big 12 play.  
WCWS appearances (7): 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2022 and 2024
NCAA championships: None (runner-up in 2022)
The buzz: The Longhorns were frighteningly close to being eliminated by the Aggies in Game 2 of their Super, but erased a five-run deficit in the sixth inning, eventually won in extra innings, then prevailed in a dramatic one-run Game 3. … UT is hitting .379 as a team, which leads the nation, and No. 2 in scoring at 8.08 runs per game. Eight of the nine players in the order sit at .372 or better. … C Reese Atwood was named 2024 Big 12 Player of the Year after hitting .435 with a robust 23 homers and 90 RBI (her homers and RBI top all players at WCWS). … 3B Mia Scott is at .410 with 10 homers and 52 RBI. … The Longhorns’ team ERA of 1.93 is sterling, but also rates fifth among the WCWS field, which speaks to the pitching depth in OKC. Teagan Karan, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, is 18-2 with a 2.20, but both Mac Morgan (15-1) and Citaly Gutierrez (11-2) check in with better ERA (1.93 and 1.79, respectively). 
 
OKLAHOMA 

Oklahoma second baseman Tiare Jennings

Seed: 2
Record: 51-6
Coach: Patty Gasso (1,508-351-2, 30th season)
Road to OKC: Won home regional by beating Cleveland State and Oregon (twice), then swept Florida State in Norman Super.
Record vs WCWS field: 4-4 (Beat Duke at neutral site; dropped two of three at Texas; lost two of three at home against Oklahoma State; defeated Texas in Big 12 Tournament title game)
WCWS appearances (17): 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 
NCAA championships (7): 2000, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022, 2023
The buzz: Once upon a time, UCLA was the dominant team in college of softball, but OU has left the Bruins – in this modern age of power hitting and pitching – in the southwestern dust. The Sooners, with their eight straight WCWS appearance, are seeking to become the first program to win four straight NCAA titles (UCLA won three from 1988-90). For the last four seasons, they’ve destroyed opponents and celebrated – over-celebrated, it’s been suggested – unapologetically in front of the partisan OKC home crowd. … Oklahoma, batting a collective .366, has four players hitting above .400 and seven at .372 or better. … DP Ella Parker is at .419 with 12 homers and 57 RBI and 3B Alyssa Brito next at .406 with 18 homers and 59 RBI. SS Tiare Jennings is at .372 with a team-high 22 homers (second-most at the WCWS) and 63 RBI. … Fifth-year senior lefty Kelly Maxwell (20-2, 1.96) transferred to Oklahoma from Oklahoma State, which took some guts and, in turn, some arrows from her former team and fan base. Two years ago, Maxwell shut out Florida 2-0 in a winner’s bracket game, holding the Gators to just three hits, striking out nine and setting down 15 in a row at one point. 
 
FLORIDA

Florida shortstop Skylar Wallace

Seed: 4
Record: 51-13
Coach: Tim Walton (979-236, 19th season)
Road to OKC: Defeated Florida Gulf Coast and South Alabama (twice) in regional, then beat Baylor in three games in the Gainesville Super.  
Record vs WCWS field:  3-2 (lost to Oklahoma State at home; defeated UCLA on neutral site; took two of three from Alabama on road) 
WCWS appearances (12): 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022, 2024 
NCAA championships (2): 2014, 2015
The buzz: The Gators reached the WCWS out of a home regional for the first time since 2019 and did so with a team that featured 10 newcomers and a pitching staff that returned zero players and, instead, leaned on two marquee freshmen. … UF led the SEC in hitting at .337, with the first five players in the batting order garnering all-league honors, highlighted by shortstop and 2023 SEC Player of the Year Skylar Wallace (.421, 87 runs scored) and 2024 SEC PoY Jocelyn Erickson, the nation’s Gold Glove catcher and transfer from Oklahoma and conference RBI leader. … Erickson has 80 RBI on the season (second-most at the WCWS). Her next RBI will be break the program’s 14-year-old single-season record. … Outfielder Korbe Otis leads the team at .449 on the season – that’s sixth nationally and best at the WCWS – and is threatening to break Wallace single-season record of .447 set in ’23. … Gold Glove center fielder Kendra Falby (.372) took a .405 average into the SEC Tournament, but is fighting a postseason slump. The Gators need her on base to get the offense going. … Freshman Keagan Rothrock (30-7, 2.43 ERA) will get the starts, but fellow freshman and 1B Ava Brown (16-5, 3.35) will need to be ready. UF’s team ERA of 2.78 is one of just two at the WCWS above 2.00 and also the highest among the eight teams remaining.
 
OKLAHOMA STATE 
 

Oklahoma State pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl

Seed: 5
Record: 49-10
Coach: Kenny Gajewski (365-147, ninth season)
Road to OKC: Defeated Northern Colorado, Kentucky and Michigan in regional, then swept Arizona in Stillwater Super. 
Record vs WCWS field: 6-2 (defeated UCLA at neutral site; won at Florida; took two of three from both Texas and Oklahoma)  
WCWS appearances (12): 1982, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2011, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024
NCAA championships: None 
The buzz: The Cowgirls are in the WCWS for the fifth straight year, with Big 12 series victories over Texas and Oklahoma along the way, plus a 3-0 shutout defeat of the Gators. That’s five wins against the WCWS teams seeded above them. Is this the year Gajewski, who won two national titles as Walton’s assistant, gets his crown? … OSU ranks 26th nationally in batting (.312) and 12th in ERA (1.99), with opponents hitting just .209 against a staff headlined by Alabama grad-transfer Lexi Kilfoyl (26-3, 1.06 ERA), who hails from Land O’ Lakes, Florida. … At the plate, the Cowgirls have C Caroline Wang (.380, 17 HR, 51 RB), 1B Karli Godwin (.344, 15 HR, 51 RBI) and 2B Rosie Davis (.344) doing damage.  
 
UCLA 

UCLA shortstop Maya Brady

Seed: 6
Record: 42-10
Coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez (586-176, 17th season)
Road to OKC: Beat Grand Canyon (twice) and Virginia Tech in regional, then swept Georgia in Los Angeles Super. 
Record vs WCWS field: 3-4 (Lost twice at home to Texas and Oklahoma State in its host tournament; lost to Florida in neutral-site tournament; swept Stanford in their Pac-12 series)
WCWS appearances (32): 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2024
NCAA championships (12): 1982, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2019.
The buzz: The Bruins started the season 8-6, with all of their losses against teams that eventually reached Super regionals. Things got better, though, as UCLA ultimately won the Pac-12 regular-season title and brings a 13-game winning streak (plus victories in 22 of its previous 23 games) to OKC. That makes the Bruins the hottest team in the field. … Of the Bruins’ dozen NCAA titles, Inouye-Perez has won two of them, with the last coming five years ago. The program has missed the WCWS only once since 2015. … SS Maya Brady leads the way at .431 with 17 homers, 58 runs scored and 68 RBI, with C Sharlize Palacious at .387 with 20 homers and 57 RBI. … Of the WCWS’s eight teams, the Bruins have the second-highest ERA at 2.75, but ace Kaitlyn Terry(21-1, 3.04) nonetheless has a sparkling won-loss record, with Taylor Tinsley (17-8, 2.53) next in line in the circle.

STANFORD 

Stanford pitcher Nijaree Canady

Seed: 8
Record: 48-15
Coach: Jessica Allister (245-127, seventh season)
Road to OKC: Defeated Saint Mary’s, Mississippi State and Cal State Fullerton in home regional, then needed three games to beat LSU at Stanford Super. 
Record vs WCWS field: 1-4 (Split with Texas at two neutral site tournaments; swept by UCLA in their regular-season league series)
WCWS appearances (4): 2001, 2004, 2023, 2024
NCAA championships: None
The buzz: The Cardinal hit just .278 as a team – with only three players batting at least .300 – and average 4.7 runs per game. … Their strength is pitching, obviously, even though the team’s aggregate ERA of 1.91 rates fourth-best in the WCWS field. Stanford has the top ace in OKC, however, in NiJaree Canaday, the 2024 NCAA Player of the Year after going 22-5 with a hand-cuffing 0.65 ERA. Canady allowed just 99 hits and 31 runs in 37 appearances this season. She lost her Super Region Game 1 against LSU by giving up six runs and 10 hits over just four innings against LSU, but bounced back to limit the Tigers to five hits and no runs over 13 combined innings in Game 2 and 3 victories. … Regan Krause (20-7, 2.94) is the second circle option. … Shortstop Emily Jones leads the team with a .337 average.

DUKE 

Duke pitcher Jala Wright

Seed: 10
Record: 52-7
Coach: Marissa Young (265-104, seventh season)
Road to OKC: Defeated Morgan State and South Carolina (twice) in home regional, then beat Missouri in three games of Durham Super. 
Record vs WCWS field:  0-1 (lost to Oklahoma in the season opener)
WCWS appearances (1): 2024
NCAA championships: None 
The buzz: The Blue Devils are one of the best stories at the WCWS because they’re first-timers. Duke only began playing Division I softball in 2017 and already is looking eye-to-eye at perennial Atlantic Coast Conference power Florida State. The Blue Devils, in fact, defeated the Seminoles in the league tournament title game. Like Stanford (its future ACC mate, oddly, but that’s another conversation), Duke is spectacular in the circle. How good? The Blue Devils’ team ERA of 1.55 tops the OKC field, thanks to a trio of sub-2.00 pitchers who combined to win 44 games: Jala Wright (19-2, 1.28), Cassidy Curd (13-3, 1.20) and Lillie Walker (12-1, 1.70). Unlike Stanford, Duke can really hit as well, after batting .329 as a team, which ranked 13th nationally. OF Claire Davidson leads the way at .439 with 18 homers and 67 RBI. CF D’Auna Jennings is the table-setting leadoff hitter at .402, while 2B Aminah Vega checks in at .381 with 18 doubles and a dozen homers.

ALABAMA 

Alabama outfielder Kristen White

Seed: 14
Record: 38-18
Coach: Patrick Murphy (1,276-373, 25th season)
Road to OKC: Defeated USC-Upstate and Southeastern in home regional, then upset No. 3 Tennessee in three games at Knoxville Super.  
Record vs WCWS field:  1-2 (dropped its regular-season home series against Florida)
WCWS appearances (15): 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2023, 2024
NCAA championships (1):  2012
The buzz: The Crimson Tide lost the first game against SEC regular-season champion and NCAA 3-seed Tennessee in the Super, but bounced back with a 3-2 win in 14 innings in the second game, then claimed a 4-1 victory that made the Volunteers the highest eliminated seed in the 64-team field. Bama, a WCWS regular under Murphy, is back in OKC despite hitting just .252 as a team – that ranked 220th nationally – and rode the outstanding pitching of (no, Montana Fouts is gone) Kayla Beaver, whose record of 18-9 doesn’t do justice to that 1.58 ERA to go with 178 strikeouts and just 68 walks. The Tide will turn to Jocelyn Briski (9-5, 2.24), if need be, but if Beaver gets any run support from Kristen White (.326), the lone Bama hitter over .300, she is good enough to carry them over several games. The Tide only needed seven runs over 21 innings to win their two games at Tennessee.

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