On Monday night, Florida and Oklahoma staged an utter classic at the Women’s College World Series.
It was a shame that one team had to lose. But there was no shame in losing this game.
The Gators struck first in the fourth inning, with Aleshia Ocasio plating Nicole DeWitt on a single up the middle after DeWitt doubled off the right field wall. And given how Kelly Barnhill had been dealing to that point, it seemed possible that run could have been the only one that Florida needed.
Instead, Oklahoma began the top of the fifth with a mirror image of Florida’s fourth: A double off the wall and a single through short tied the game in short order.
And then, in the sixth, Barnhill gave up a rare home run, a solo shot to Nicole Mendes that put Florida in a hole for the first time during this trip to Oklahoma City.
But Florida would strike back on its final strike in the seventh inning.
After Ocasio got back on base, Sophia Reynoso battled to a payoff pitch — and lofted a blooper to no man’s land in the outfield that glanced off an outfielder’s glove. Ocasio sprinted around the basepaths to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Once the game got there, relievers Paige Parker and Delanie Gourley settled in, not yielding much of anything — until the 12th.
That’s when Fale Aviu connected with a Gourley pitch and gave Oklahoma a 4-2 lead that seemed like the death knell for the Gators.
But they wouldn’t die in that inning, either.
Down to her final strike, Amanda Lorenz cranked a two-run double to the wall to tie the game at 4-4. And while she would be left on third in that inning, Florida had managed to extend the game after going to its final strike again.
Yet Oklahoma had one more moonshot left in it. Shay Knighten turned on a riseball thrown by Barnhill — in her second appearance of the evening — for a three-run shot in the top of the 17th, staking the Sooners to a 7-4 lead.
That lead finally, absolutely seemed insurmountable, as Monday melted into Tuesday and a game that had already become the longest in Florida’s school history became the longest in Women’s College World Series history.
Of course, Florida didn’t go down quietly. These Gators don’t die easy.
Florida loaded the bases in the bottom of the 17th inning, and Lorenz managed a flyout to cut the deficit to 7-5. But Kayli Kvistad couldn’t come through on her attempt to extend or win the game, striking out to end one of the best games in the history of collegiate softball — and giving Florida an 0-1 deficit in the Women’s College World Series championship series.
But the Gators aren’t dead yet. And Game 2 is ... well, it’s not even a day away.