Everything you need to know about the epic Texas-Oklahoma WCWS finals

For much of the 2024 softball season, an Oklahoma-Texas finale felt preordained. Oklahoma has been the sport’s inevitable force, winning three straight national titles and five of the past seven. That the Sooners have lost seven games this year is a sign of regression by their standards.

Mike White’s Longhorns, meanwhile, have been OU’s equal from the very start of the season. The 2022 runners-up, beaten by the Sooners in the final series two years ago, had already defeated four top-10 teams by mid-February; in early April, they became the first Big 12 team since Missouri in 2011 to take a series off of the champs. They drew the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

This year had to end with Sooners-Longhorns. But it almost didn’t.

Texas lost to rival Texas A&M in the first game of the super regionals and trailed 5-1 in the second. And when the Longhorns charged back to take an 8-5 lead, the Aggies tied it with a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh. Texas had to gut out a nine-inning win, then survive a late comeback to win in Game 3 just to make it to Oklahoma City in the first place.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, was on the ropes and wobbly as late as about 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday afternoon. Needing to just win one of two games against the power-hitting Gators to get to the finals, the Sooners got knocked around 9-3 in the first game Monday — a loss that ended a 20-game NCAA tournament win streak — and fell behind 5-2 in the second. Kelly Maxwell, Oklahoma’s ace, had given up just two home runs in her past 33 innings but gave up three in three innings to the Gators. But she steadied herself from there, and freshman Ella Parker, just one inning after getting decked in a collision at second base, knocked in the tying run in the sixth inning. At the bottom of the eighth, facing the prospect of maybe the last at-bat of her career, senior Jayda Coleman instead bought herself a few more, knocking a flyball just over both the left-field wall and Florida outfielder Korbe Otis’ reach. The Sooners won 6-5.

So here we are, exactly where we thought we’d be. The road may have gotten bumpy at the end, but OU and Texas will meet in a best-of-three series — Game 1 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN — to determine 2024’s national champion. Does Texas win its first softball ring, or was this all just a dramatic lead-up to Oklahoma’s fourth straight?

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The basics

Texas’ record: 55-8 (9-5 vs. other WCWS teams). The Longhorns went a combined 3-4 against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State but are a whopping 52-4 against all the other states.

Texas’ postseason path (7-1):
Regionals: beat Siena, 5-0; beat Northwestern 14-2 and 7-0.
Super Regionals: lost 6-5 to No. 16 Texas A&M, then beat the Aggies 9-8 and 6-5
World Series: beat No. 8 Stanford 4-0, beat No. 4 Florida 10-0, beat No. 8 Stanford 1-0

Oklahoma’s record: 57-7 (7-5 vs. other WCWS teams). The Sooners dropped series to both Texas and Oklahoma State — catastrophic by their standards — but thumped Texas in the Big 12 tournament and otherwise went 54-3.

Oklahoma’s postseason path (8-1):
Regionals: beat Cleveland State 9-0; beat Oregon 6-3 and 3-2
Super Regionals: beat No. 15 Florida State,11-3 and 4-2
World Series: beat No. 10 Duke 9-1; beat No. 6 UCLA 1-0; lost to No. 4 Florida 9-3; beat No. 4 Florida 6-5


Looking back at this year’s first four meetings

This is the fifth meeting between Oklahoma and Texas this season. The Sooners enjoyed a couple of semicomfortable wins, while the Horns won a couple of pitchers’ duels.

April 5: Oklahoma 5, Texas 2

Starters: Kelly Maxwell (OU) vs. Mac Morgan (Texas)
Key hitting performances: CF Jayda Coleman (OU): 2-for-4, 1 HR, 4 RBI; RF Rylie Boone (OU): 2-for-3, 2 runs

In the first game of their three-game tussle in Austin, Coleman put the Sooners up 1-0 with an RBI single, then all but ended the game with a three-run shot in the fifth. Maxwell allowed just two baserunners in six innings before allowing four hitters on base, with two scoring, in the bottom of the seventh.

April 6: Texas 2, Oklahoma 1

Starters: Citlaly Gutierrez (UT) vs. Nicole May (OU)
Key hitting performances: SS Viviana Martinez (Texas): 3-for-3, 2 doubles, 1 RBI, 1 run

Texas evened the series thanks to a dominant performance from Gutierrez. Oklahoma patched together a run from three hits in the first but was allowed only three more hits after that. Freshman Katie Stewart’s RBI double gave the Horns the lead in the fourth inning, and it held up.

April 7: Texas 2, Oklahoma 1

Starters: Teagan Kavan (Texas) vs. Maxwell (OU)
Key hitting performances: 1B Katie Stewart (Texas): 1-for-2, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB; DP Ella Parker (OU): 2-for-3, 1 HR, 1 RBI

Maxwell was mostly dominant once again, allowing just three hits in 4.2 innings, but Stewart sent a 64-mph home run over the left-field fence in the fourth inning. With Kavan pitching out of trouble in the third and Estelle Czech doing so in the fourth, Stewart’s two-run shot made the difference.

May 11: Oklahoma 5, Texas 1

Starters: Maxwell (OU) vs. Gutierrez (Texas)
Key hitting performances: Parker (OU): 2-for-4, 2 runs; C Kinzie Hansen (OU): 1-for-3, 2 RBI

After losing the last series of the regular season to Oklahoma State, OU used the Big 12 tournament to get back on track. After blowouts of Kansas and BYU, it handled the Horns with relative ease, too. Oklahoma jumped on Gutierrez with two runs in the first, then got RBIs from Alyssa Brito and Hansen in the third and Rylie Boone in the fourth. That was more than enough for Maxwell.

The Sooners outscored the Horns 12-7 over the four games, for whatever that’s worth.


Question No. 1: Can Texas solve Kelly Maxwell?

Texas has beaten Stanford’s NiJaree Canady twice in the past week. If you can do that, you can beat anyone — something the Horns more than backed up with a 10-0 pummeling of Florida on Saturday. Despite the high level of pitching, they’ve batted .294 with six extra-base hits and 15 runs in 83 total plate appearances.

Reese Atwood was a top-three finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, but really, the Horns’ secret weapon in the hitting department is devastating depth. Nine Texas hitters have made at least 100 plate appearances this season, and seven of them have an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of at least 1.000.

Texas is first nationally in batting average, second in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging percentage. But if it has any weaknesses, they come in two departments: The Longhorns are not as good against lefties or drop balls.

Batting average: first overall, 22nd vs. lefties, 10th vs. drop balls
On-base percentage: third overall, 19th vs. lefties, 18th vs. drop balls
Slugging percentage: fourth overall, 21st vs. lefties, 19th vs. drop balls
Chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the zone): 26th overall, 40th vs. lefties, 74th vs. drop balls

That’s a bit of a problem against Oklahoma because Maxwell is a lefty who throws nearly twice as many drop balls as the average pitcher. She’s thrown 17 innings against Texas this year and allowed just eight hits and five runs with 23 strikeouts. Texas has barely gotten the ball out of the infield against her.

Atwood is 1-for-8 with three strikeouts against Maxwell, while Texas’ next leading hitters, Stewart and Mia Scott, are 2-for-11 with four Ks and Stewart’s home run. The only player to get more than two hits off of her is outfielder Bella Dayton (2-for-7 with a single and a triple). Last year, when Maxwell was pitching for Oklahoma State, the Horns went a combined 3-for-21 against her, but one of those hits was a three-run walk-off bomb by Atwood. They have made some of their hits count, at least.

Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso is likely to lean on Maxwell as much as possible over the coming two to three days, but senior Nicole May, OU’s No. 2, also fared relatively well against Texas this year, allowing two runs and five hits with nine Ks in 6.1 innings. The last time we saw May, she was getting knocked around by Florida on Monday, but she’s still 14-3 on the season.


Question No. 2: How do you score on the Horns?

Considering how ridiculous Texas’ offense is, the pitching almost sneaks up on you. But it’s just as good.

Before the WCWS began, I wrote this about the Longhorns: “Among World Series teams, only Duke has allowed a lower on-base percentage than Texas’ 0.267, and only Oklahoma and Duke have allowed lower scoring averages. The righty trio of Teagan Kavan, Mac Morgan and Citlaly Gutierrez is stylistically diverse but almost interchangeable in terms of results — all three have started 15 to 21 games, and all allow an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) between .527 and .592 with an ERA between 1.79 and 2.20. Kavan is the strikeout pitcher, Morgan has the highest velocity (but the lowest strikeout rate), and Gutierrez offers the most control. When both Gutierrez and Kavan struggled against A&M in the super regionals, Morgan put out fires in the first two games and won the third. Her stat line for the supers: 13⅓ innings, a 1.60 ERA and a .220 batting average allowed. You’d perhaps like to know you have an ace to lean on with the national title on the line, and UT’s best pitcher changes from week to week. But White is always able to find an answer.”

That was complimentary, but it somehow understated what the Horns were capable of. In three games and 19 innings — two against Stanford and one against Florida’s mighty offense — Texas has allowed three hits, all ground ball singles. It hasn’t allowed a run since the final inning of the A&M series. It has struck out 20. The average WHIP (wins and hits per inning pitched) at this WCWS is 1.21. Texas has allowed a 0.47.

Kavan has done most of the work in OKC thus far, pitching 14 innings and allowing two of the three hits. She’s done it almost entirely with rise balls — its made up 80% of her pitches, more than twice as much as the average at the WCWS — which has made Morgan an unfair complement: She’s thrown 87% drop balls and allowed just one hit with five Ks in five innings.

As you can see in the chart below, Kavan’s rise balls have mostly resulted in grounders to second and soft flyball outs. Most of Morgan’s drop balls haven’t left the infield.

The only team that can come close to Texas’ hitting depth is Oklahoma. Like the Horns, eight of their nine players with 100-plus plate appearances have an OPS over 1.000, and while they don’t quite have an Atwood-level hitter, in seniors Brito and Tiare Jennings and freshman Parker they have three players over the 1.200 mark. Texas has one.

It will be interesting to see how White attempts to use his pitching staff over the next two to three days. He leaned heavily on Gutierrez against the Sooners in the regular season, but she got roughed up by Texas A&M in the supers, and Kavan and Morgan have done all the (brilliant) work in OKC. Do you dust off Gutierrez? Do you keep leaning on what’s worked this week? You could make the case for any of the three starting any game.

Fifteen years ago, White was in the middle of an incredible journey and still trying to find a school that would hire him as its head coach. Gasso, meanwhile, was trying to break a funk of good-not-great years following a 2000 national title. Now, her Sooners are the lords of the sport, and White’s Horns appear to be the only ones capable of ending their rule. Every WCWS finale is worth watching, but this one is something particularly special.

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