Texas' awesome offense, OU's four-peat quest and what to know about every team

It’s almost like a glitch of some sort. Texas, the school that produced NCAA great Cat Osterman and has made 24 NCAA softball tournament appearances and seven Women’s College World Series appearances — and has won national titles in nine other women’s sports — has yet to win a national title in softball.

This sport has always been a particularly tough mountain to climb. Schools from either California, Arizona or Washington won 26 of the first 30 national titles from 1982 to 2011, and the past 11 titles have gone to either Alabama, Florida, Florida State, UCLA or the dynasty of the day, Oklahoma. Texas is always good — the Longhorns have won over 70% of their softball games all time and haven’t missed the NCAAs since 2004. But now they head to Oklahoma City as the top contender.

The WCWS begins Thursday with Mike White’s Horns as the top seed. They got past rival Texas A&M by the skin of their teeth in the super regionals, and the field in Oklahoma City is absolutely loaded, not only with Oklahoma looming as the No. 2 seed but also with three other recent title winners and an Oklahoma State team that handed Texas a pair of losses in March.

One of the wildest weeks of the collegiate calendar is about to begin. Can Texas come through and win its first ring? Is this all simply a prelude before Oklahoma rolls to a fourth straight title? Has the moment arrived for someone else? Let’s look at the stats and storylines behind each of the eight remaining title candidates.

No. 1 Texas

Record: 52-8 (6-5 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Mike White (sixth season)
Best WCWS result: 2022 runner-up
First WCWS opponent: No. 8 Stanford (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET)

The WCWS welcomes six elite offenses and eight elite pitching staffs/defenses. But even among an awesome field, two teams stand out. Texas and Oklahoma are the only two teams in the national top five in both runs scored and runs allowed per game.

Texas got the top seed over the three-time defending champs by generating its numbers against a harder schedule. The Horns have played the most games against the WCWS field, and according to the numbers at WarrenNolan.com, they ranked fourth in nonconference strength of schedule (OU was 24th) and third in overall SOS (OU: 20th). They split four games with the Sooners, too, albeit while winning two 2-1 games and getting outscored 10-3 in two losses. You could certainly make the case that tournament form, a relative home-field advantage and the aura that comes with winning three straight titles may give OU the overall edge in the coming days. But Texas is outstanding.

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.

White also has a ridiculous offense at his disposal. The Horns have the best batting average in the country, and while OU has a bit more power, UT makes up for that with speed. Only Florida runs the bases better. This is probably the most well-rounded offense in the country, and as with the pitching, Texas beats you with depth. Nine players have come to bat at least 100 times in 2024, and eight of them boast an OPS over 1,000. (The only one who doesn’t, left fielder Ashton Maloney, still bats .391.) Five of the nine regulars have hit at least eight home runs, eight have driven in at least 30 runs, and all nine have scored at least 34 runs. There is no weak link here.

Even in an elite lineup, first baseman Reese Atwood stands out. Among power conference hitters, the Big 12 Player of the Year is first nationally in total bases, RBIs, home runs and slugging percentage.

In the super regionals, A&M decided to make someone other than Atwood beat them. In 13 plate appearances, she walked three times and was hit by four pitches. (To say the least, she crowds the plate.) When she actually got a pitch to hit, she went 3-for-6 with a home run. That means she got on base in a Barry Bonds-like 10 of 13 appearances. For that matter, her hit chart just screams, “If Bonds was right-handed …”

That “Make someone other than Atwood beat you” strategy? It didn’t really work for A&M. Even with Atwood scoring only twice with two RBIs, Texas scored 20 runs in three games. If someone’s going to beat the Horns in OKC, they’re going to have to outslug them from the top of the lineup to the bottom.


No. 2 Oklahoma

Record: 54-6 (4-4 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Patty Gasso (30th season)
Best WCWS result: seven-time champion (last title: 2023)
First WCWS opponent: No. 10 Duke (Thursday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

You know the bar is high when going 54-6 is a sign of regression, but that’s what happens when you’re coming off of a 61-1 season. Patty Gasso’s Sooners lost more in a single weekend in April against Texas (and then again in May against Oklahoma State) than they did all of last season. And they lost two other games besides that. (Gasp!)

Maybe this will make the 2024 World Series a fair fight. OU won five WCWS games by a combined 23-3 last season, after all.

Texas has just about been the Sooners’ statistical equal this year, but really you can only compare Oklahoma to itself. If OU has indeed regressed this season, where has said regression come?

On the hitting side of the equation, OU’s numbers are extremely similar.

Batting average: .365 in 2023, .365 in 2024
On-base percentage: .455 in 2023, .472 in 2024
Slugging percentage: .664 in 2023, .652 in 2024
Home run rate: 6.1% in 2023, 5.7% in 2024
Chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the zone): 23.1% in 2023, 17.8% in 2024
Pitches per plate appearances: 3.87 in 2023, 3.95 in 2024
Stolen bases: 50 in 2023, 60 in 2024

They’re hitting slightly fewer home runs, but they still have five players with 13-17 homers — third baseman Tiare Jennings has 17 with a team-best 66 RBIs — and they’re also chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, getting on base more and stealing more bases.

Without quite as much raw power, they’re using fundamental play to make up the difference. They rely a bit more on working the count in their favor — their OPS when ahead on the count is actually better this year (1.515 vs. 1.408), but their OPS when behind is worse (.768 vs. .886) — which has made them vulnerable to a couple of outstanding pitching performances. But they still mash the ball.

The pitching does seem to have slipped a hair.

Runs allowed per game: 1.0 in 2023, 1.8 in 2024
Batting average allowed: .162 in 2023, .188 in 2024
On-base percentage allowed: .227 in 2023, .270 in 2024
Slugging percentage allowed: .233 in 2023, .307 in 2024
Strikeout rate: 31.3% in 2023, 23.4% in 2024
WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched): 0.81 in 2023, 1.00 in 2024

The trio of Jordy Bahl, Alex Storako and Nicole May was almost unhittable last season, but with Bahl gone to Nebraska, Storako out of eligibility and May less effective, Gasso has had to rely quite a bit on Oklahoma State transfer Kelly Maxwell and sophomore Kierston Deal. The results are still very good, and they have the best infield fielding percentage of any WCWS team (again: fundamentals!), but overall, they’re slightly more vulnerable. OU allowed six or more runs in six games this season, losing four of them.

I wrote the word “vulnerable” twice above. The Sooners are definitely more vulnerable to other teams’ brilliance this season. They’re also 54-6 and, at worst, the co-favorite to win another title. If only we could all be so vulnerable.


No. 4 Florida

Record: 51-13 (3-2 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Tim Walton (17th season)
Best WCWS result: two-time champion (last title: 2015)
First WCWS opponent: No. 5 Oklahoma State (Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET)

In the runs chart above, Florida’s run totals are awfully close to future conference mates Texas and Oklahoma despite playing in the SEC, which qualified every team for the NCAAs and occupied eight of the 16 national seeds.

The Gators are a bit on the mortal side in the pitching department: They allow 2.9 runs per game (27th nationally), and they’ve given up 40 home runs (257th). Freshman Keagan Rothrock has started 40 of 64 games this season, and while she’s got power and plenty of strikeout capability — and she shut out both UCLA and Alabama — if you make contact, you’re probably going to hit the ball pretty hard.

The problem is that the Gators are going to hit the ball even harder. They’re fourth in runs per game (7.8), third in on-base percentage (.448) and fourth in isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). They’re right there with the Horns and Sooners.

The national average for OPS is .745 this season; for WCWS teams, it’s .955. But four Florida regulars are over 1.170, and both first baseman Skylar Wallace (1.386) and left fielder Korbe Otis (1.342) are in the nation’s top 15 in the category; Reagan Walsh leads the team with 17 home runs (one of five Gators with at least nine) and Wallace has 14 HRs and 35 stolen bases (third most in the country). That is a patently ridiculous combination. Of the 16 players with more than 25 SBs, Texas’ Kayden Henry (nine) is the only other one with more than six homers.

The Gators can win with small ball, and they can win playing home run derby. They just exhaust you with all the ways they can generate offense. Rothrock has given up at least four runs in eight games this season … and Florida went 6-2 in those games. She gave up eight to Florida State, a team good enough to reach the super regionals. Florida won 15-13. Ava Brown, their other primary starter, gave up eight against Texas A&M once. They won 9-8.


No. 5 Oklahoma State

Record: 49-10 (6-2 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Kenny Gajewski (ninth season)
Best WCWS result: 2022 semifinalist
First WCWS opponent: No. 4 Florida (Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET)

Florida and Oklahoma State owe us a track meet. The teams met in Gainesville in February, and OSU prevailed 3-0. The next game better be 13-10. For all the ways Florida can score runs — and for all the ways OSU’s Lexi Kilfoyl looked fantastic in shutting the mighty Gators’ offense out — OSU does most of its damage in one specific way: by swinging for the fences. The Cowgirls are fifth nationally in home run rate (5.1%) and fifth in isolated power (.248). They swing at only 42.3% of pitches (270th); they look for the right pitch to mash, and they mash it.

Of the eight teams in the WCWS, only OU has hit more home runs. And while catcher Caroline Wang leads the team with 17 HRs, 51 RBIs and a .376 batting average, four others have hit at least 10 dingers. That’s over half the lineup with serious power. The Cowgirls hit meaty pitches, and they give you almost none.

If you’re going to punish Kilfoyl and the OSU pitchers, you better be really good at hitting pitches low and outside.

Kilfoyl, a second-year Alabama transfer, is 26-3 for the season; she and secondary pitchers Ivy Rosenberry and Kyra Ayrock are all righties, and they all throw 63-68% of their strikes on the outside half of the plate; they can nibble a bit too much at times (only 46% of their pitches are in the zone, 163rd in the nation), but you just don’t ever get anything good to hit.

Kilfoyl was up-and-down to start the year: She was mostly awesome but got knocked around by Georgia, Wichita State and UCF. But since March 28, when she shut out Texas, she has been perhaps the best pitcher in the country. Or at least the best that isn’t named Nijaree Canady. She shut out Texas again two days later, and among power conference pitchers in that span, she’s third in OPS allowed (.469, behind only Stanford’s Canady and Duke’s Cassidy Curd) and WHIP (0.85). Most importantly, OSU is 12-1 in her starts in this span.

As the top seed, Texas might feel that its moment has come. But OSU is a combined 5-2 against the higher-seeded teams still in the field. Between power hitting and Kilfoyl’s dominance, the Cowgirls have a shot at this thing.


No. 6 UCLA

Record: 42-10 (3-4 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez (17th season)
Best WCWS result: 13-time champion (last title: 2019)
First WCWS opponent: No. 14 Alabama (Thursday, noon ET)

UCLA doesn’t shy away from a fight. Despite coming into 2024 with a pitching staff anchored by a sophomore righty (Taylor Tinsley) and freshman lefty (Kaitlyn Terry), the Bruins took on a nonconference slate that included games against Texas (twice), Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Georgia and Baylor. They lost most of those early games during a meager 8-6 start, but since then? They’re 34-4. They swept the Pac-12 tournament, outscored three regional opponents by a combined 25-7, then crushed Georgia — a team that had stomped them 7-2 in mid-February — by a combined score of 14-1 in the super regionals.

Since the postseason began, they’ve scored 6.6 runs per game and allowed just 1.3. Tinsley and Terry have allowed 10 runs in 49.1 postseason innings, and Tinsley has allowed a paltry .428 OPS. Neither of them throws incredibly hard, but they have been obliterating right-handed batters in the postseason.

Terry vs. right-handers (postseason): .222 OBP, .250 SP, 2 R
Tinsley vs. right-handers (postseason): .120 OBP, .208 SP, 1 R

Lefties have had a bit more success, but not a ton.

Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of catcher Sharlize Palacios and center fielder Maya Brady has been absurd. UCLA has 51 postseason RBIs; they have 27 of them. Palacios has hit seven home runs in eight postseason games. She’s batting .524 in 21 at-bats, and one-third of her hits have left the yard. The seven home runs have come against four different types of pitches, too — three from curveballs (all to right field), two from rise balls (both to left field), one from a screwball (plus one that nearly left the park) and one from a changeup.

This hasn’t really been just a postseason thing with Palacios, either. For the season, she’s got a .491 on-base percentage and nearly as many home runs (20) as strikeouts (22). If you throw her a strike, she’s probably going to crush it.

Oklahoma’s recent success has almost made us forget about how important it can be to peak at the right time — the Sooners, after all, spent most of 2022 and 2023 in peak form and never deviated. But UCLA is playing its best ball of the season at the most important time of the year. That could end up mattering quite a bit.


No. 8 Stanford

Record: 48-15 (1-4 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Jessica Allister (seventh season)
Best WCWS result: three-time semifinalist (last time: 2023)
First WCWS opponent: No. 1 Texas (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET)

The last time we saw Nijaree Canady in Oklahoma City, she was shutting Oklahoma down as well as anyone had all year. In two WCWS games, the then-freshman pitched 10 innings against the invincible Sooners and allowed just three earned runs; she couldn’t get the win in either game she played because OU’s Jordy Bahl matched her pitch-for-pitch, but she sent notice: She was a force that would have to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Now a sophomore, Canady has backed that up almost all year. She leads the country in OPS allowed and strikeout rate. Translation: You’re lucky to make contact, and if you do, you’re still probably not doing much with the ball.

The sophomore from Topeka, Kansas, pulled off something pretty incredible in the super regionals against LSU. She suffered by far her worst performance of the season in Game 1, giving up six runs and 10 hits in four innings of a dismal 11-1 defeat.

How did she respond? With 13 shutout innings in Games 2 and 3. Stanford came back to win 3-0 and 8-0 and advance to a second straight WCWS. The Cardinal went 19 years without reaching the World Series, but they’re 2-for-2 with Canady.

Pitching is everything for Stanford because, well, they often don’t get enough offense. In 15 losses this season, they’ve scored either zero or one run nine times (including each of the past six). Taryn Kern is an absolute pest as a leadoff hitter — she averages 4.8 pitches per plate appearance (most players average under 4.0). She never chases a pitch, and when she makes contact, it’s pretty violent: She’s by far the team leader in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Stanford has a couple of all-or-nothing hitters behind her: Lefty first-baseman Ava Gall and righty catcher Aly Kaneshiro have combined for 21 home runs and 78 RBIs, albeit with just a .268 average. That combo can work pretty well. But the bottom of the order doesn’t always offer much. Still, just a little bit of offense could go a long way when you’ve got the most powerful pitcher in the Women’s College World Series at your disposal.


No. 10 Duke

Record: 52-7 (0-1 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Marissa Young (seventh season)
Best WCWS result: first appearance
First WCWS opponent: No. 2 Oklahoma (Thursday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

The milestones keep flowing for Duke softball. The Blue Devils’ first pitch as a startup softball program came in 2018. They made their first NCAA tournament in 2021, then their first super regional in 2022. And in 2024 came a series of firsts. They won their first ACC title, and they experienced their first feeling of being dramatically underseeded.

Duke ranks seventh nationally in runs per game and fourth in runs allowed. Against the three next-best teams in the ACC, the Blue Devils went a combined 10-1. They might not play in the SEC, but their strength of schedule, per WarrenNolan.com, ranks 22nd, just two spots behind Oklahoma, and their record is only 1½ games worse than the Sooners’. But they got the No. 10 seed in the tournament and had to head to No. 7 Missouri for their super regional despite clearly deserving to host one themselves.

In the end, however, that was particularly unfortunate for Mizzou. Duke advanced to its first WCWS — the third “first” of the season — with an extra-inning win in the deciding game.

The offense is led primarily by outfielder Claire Davidson and free-swinging second baseman Aminah Vega, who have combined for 22% of the Blue Devils’ at-bats but 47% of their home runs and 32% of their RBIs. They had three of Duke’s seven hits in the deciding win over Missouri, but when they couldn’t drive a run across, the rest of the order stepped up: Leadoff hitter D’Auna Jennings hit a home run, and left fielder Amiah Burgess, third baseman Ana Gold and catcher Kelly Torres all had RBIs.

The offense provided just enough to account for a faulty performance from senior ace Jala Wright. In two starts against Missouri, she gave up five earned runs in five innings, and she was relieved twice by sophomore Cassidy Curd, who dominated (17.1 innings, two earned runs). The two have produced awfully similar numbers in 2024 (Wright has a 1.28 ERA, Curd a 1.29) and they proved in the supers that their extreme diversity is a plus. Wright, a righty, throws everything low and hard; Curd, a lefty, throws high and even harder.

It’s a particularly disorienting combo for batters. And they will give Duke a chance to continue to overachieve.


No. 14 Alabama

Record: 38-18 (1-2 vs. other WCWS teams)
Head coach: Patrick Murphy (25th season)
Best WCWS result: 2012 champion
First WCWS opponent: No. 6 UCLA (Thursday, noon ET)

Alabama is one of the surest things in softball. The Crimson Tide have made 18 super regional appearances and 13 WCWS appearances in the past 19 NCAA tournaments. It was jarring, then, to watch them lose nine of 12 late in the season and finish under .500 in the SEC for the first time.

Really, that stretch wasn’t as bad as it appeared: Most of their losses came against teams that would earn seeds in the NCAAs. Someone has to lose those games. But the pitching remained strong, and the Tide rolled through the regionals with ease. Against No. 3 Tennessee in the super regionals, they lost 3-2, won 3-2 (an incredible, 14-inning marathon) and advanced with a 4-1 victory in Game 3. Against a dynamite Tennessee offense, the Tide allowed six runs over 28 innings.

That was pretty indicative. Because whatever they win in OKC will be because of pitching. Senior Kayla Beaver (1.58 ERA) is awesome, freshman Jocelyn Briski is a solid No. 2 … and the offense is merely OK.

Beaver, a Central Arkansas transfer, is pretty much all-or-nothing: Of the 59 runs she has allowed, 28 came in just five of her 37 appearances, while she allowed zero or one run in 23 games. She’s more than willing to work deep into the count and test your patience. She threw 159 pitches over 9.2 innings in the season-saving Game 2 win against Tennessee, and while she struck out only four, she walked only three, and of the six hits she allowed, three didn’t leave the infield (and one barely sneaked through). She gave the Vols nothing to work with.

There’s pressure on Beaver and Briski to play well because the Tide’s offense is easily the worst at the WCWS. Only Stanford’s is even close.

The Tide’s .253 batting average is mediocre, and while six WCWS teams rank 16th or better nationally in OPS, Bama ranks 150th. No Tide hitter has more than six home runs, only sophomore second baseman Kenleigh Cahalan and outfielder Kristen White bat over .300, and only catcher Marlie Giles slugs over .450. Giles missed nearly six weeks with an arm injury — a period that coincided perfectly with Bama’s slump — and has gone just 5-for-19 since her return. She did walk three times and score four runs, however. That was gravely necessary production; she’ll need to do even more in OKC.

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