WCWS Game 2: Clutch Coleman and Sooners Spoil Canady’s Curtain-Raising GemTop Stories
As a freshman, Jayda Coleman had the final chance to stave off one of the biggest upsets in World Series history. Her fly ball to left against Odicci Alexander instead proved the final out of a James Madison win that kickstarted a magical week and launched Alexander in a new stratosphere of stardom.
That week ultimately worked out pretty well for Coleman and the Sooners, too, winning the first of what they hope will soon be three consecutive national titles. Statistically, they have a much better chance of making that history happen after beating Stanford 2-0 in Thursday’s opening round. And it’s in large part because Coleman, again facing a pitcher announcing herself to the wider world, came through with a two-out hit that turned the game around.
Coleman’s RBI single in the fifth inning, which brought home two runs after a Stanford error, was just about the only blemish on an otherwise unforgettable debut from Stanford freshman NiJaree Canady.
In a performance at times reminiscent not just of Alexander two years ago, but Monica Abbott in her WCWS debut 18 years earlier, Canady flummoxed the nation’s best offense with her rise ball. For most of five innings, the fearsome Sooners were left to celebrate foul balls instead of home runs, just hoping they could outlast the freshman from nearby Topeka, Kansas. The first time through the order, Oklahoma hitters produced 21 two-strike foul balls.
“We knew what we were running into in the way of NiJa,” Gasso said. “She has become one of the hardest-throwing, ball-moving freshmen I’ve ever seen.”
The NFCA Freshman of the Year, despite missing essentially a month of the season, Canady struck out seven batter and allowed just four singles in her five innings. If not for Coleman’s big hit and seven innings of nerves-free pitching from Jordy Bahl, last year’s Freshman of the Year who was making her just her second WCWS start, there might have been another opening day stunner.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in, but the atmosphere was incredible,” Canady said of her debut. “Like I said yesterday, I had no clue what to expect at first. But to be able to play in front of this crowd, it was something unbelievable.”
But that’s the thing about the Sooners. There always seems to be someone waiting to step up.
Stanford’s Canady struck out seven and had OU hoping for foul balls (Crash Kamon/D1Softball).
How it happened
Bottom of the first: The World Series has had delays for rain, lightning, tornados, you name it. But as the first inning, it felt like we might have the first ever night session delayed by foul balls. Canady’s WCWS debut began with back-to-back epic at-bats against Jayda Coleman and Tiare Jennings. Coleman won hers, poking a single to center on the 11th pitch of her at-bat. But unbowed, Canady struck out Jennings on a wicked rise up and in on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. By the time she struck out Kinzie Hansen to end the frame, she had thrown 29 pitches.
Bottom of the second: Cydney Sanders drew a one-out walk in Oklahoma’s best at-bat (if not its longest) in the early going. But Canady worked out of it, retiring Grace Lyons to end the inning after four consecutive two-strike fouls balls. Canady finished the second inning at 52 pitches and after an astounding 18 two-strike foul balls from the first eight batters.
Bottom of the third: Would the Sooners solve Canady the second time through the order? Not immediately. Not by a long shot. Coleman struck out on three pitches and Jennings ended the inning with her second strikeout of the game. It marked the first time the two ever struck out in the same inning and just the third time in three seasons that Jennings struck out in back-to-back at-bats (one of the other times was against Odicci Alexander in the 2021 WCWS).
Top of the fourth: Back-to-back singles from Emily Young and Kylie Chung gave the Cardinal runners on first and second with one out for the second time. But Bahl struck out Emily Schultz and Kaitlyn Lim to end the threat without a ball in play.
Top of the fifth: Yet again, Stanford had runners on first and second and one out, this time after a Sydney Steele leadoff single and River Mahler one-out walk. But again, Bahl got the crucial second out on her own, striking out Taylor Gindlesperger on three pitches. Aly Kaneshiro did get the ball in the air, but the harmless fly to left stranded Stanford’s fifth and sixth runners.
Bottom of the fifth: Canady struck out Sanders to open the inning, the ninth consecutive Sooner to come and go. Then trouble finally arrived. Alynah Torres singled into the left-center gap, with Avery Hodge taking her place as a pinch runner. Canady retired Lyons for the second out, but Rylie Boone’s single to left field gave Oklahoma its first runner in scoring position.
The first batter to see Canady for a third time, Coleman still fell into an 0-2 hole. But her opposite-field punch set the inning in motion. OU coach Patty Gasso was waving Hodge around third even before the ball went under Stanford left fielder Ellee Eck’s glove—a strong throw might have made it a close play at the plate. When the ball rolled to the wall, Boone scored easily for the second run. OU 2-0.
“I think it shows that we don’t always have to hit home runs,” Coleman said. “We can be the team that’s just scrappy. Just put the ball in play, hit low line drives. I think sometimes people want us to jack home runs when that doesn’t win it all the time.
“So just really getting down to the fundamentals and the foundation and just hitting low line drives and just taking the walks and just being scrappy.”
Top of the seventh: Stanford got a runner on with less than two outs for the fourth time in seven innings. But for the third time, Bahl struck out the next batter for the second out of the inning—this time freezing Dani Hayes. And for the second time with a runner on base, she made it back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning and game when she fanned Mahler. Bahl finished with 11 strikeouts.
It’s been like an hour or however long but my mind keeps going back to @jaydac00— Danielle O’Toole Trejo OLY (@Oh_tooly3) June 1, 2023
She is SO gritty. Takes chances. & lives for that one shot. So good.
Thanks to the format change that debuted a year ago, the Sooners will rest until Saturday afternoon. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. The two didn’t play this season, but they did stage an epic extra-innings thrilled in last year’s Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, California. The Sooners scored two runs in the bottom of the 10th to come away with a 9-8 win.
Stanford will play Alabama in Friday’s first elimination game. The Cardinal ended the Tide’s unbroken string of super regional appearances a year ago, beating the Tide three times in Tuscaloosa to win a regional.