A peculiar rule came into play at the 2022 Women’s College World Series: While most NCAA softball games can be ended by a mercy rule (or “run rule”) when a team leads by eight runs or more in the fifth inning or later, that option is turned off when there are only two teams left standing. When the championship is on the line, the games must be played to completion. Naturally, this scenario doesn’t come up often, since the two teams that have outlasted everybody else are typically competitive. In the history of the WCWS championship series, more games have gone to extra innings (12) than have been decided by eight runs or more (six before this year).
But softball needs mercy to protect itself from Oklahoma, the most dominant team the sport has ever seen. The Sooners went 59-3 this season to win their second straight national championship. Of those 59 wins, 41 were decided by mercy rule, and it should have been 43. They swept Texas in the championship series, and both games were absolute blowouts: They won Game 1 16-1, smashing a record six home runs and setting the mark for the largest margin of victory in a championship series, and they led Game 2 10-2 after six innings. Texas plated three runs in the bottom of the seventh to make the final score 10-5.
Things are supposed to get tougher for teams the deeper they play into a given postseason. That wasn’t the case for Oklahoma. During the regular season and Big 12 tournament, the Sooners outscored their opponents by a combined 463-45—an average margin of victory of 8.20. In the NCAA tournament, they increased that margin to 8.73, thanks to a record-setting 20-0 win against Texas A&M and an 8-0 no-hitter against UCF. They clinched a trip to the championship series by routing UCLA 15-0, and then put up 26 runs over two games in the championship series. When the going got tough, the Sooners kept hitting dingers.
Most of the Sooners hype naturally surrounds Jocelyn Alo, who inarguably cemented her status as the greatest hitter in college softball history. The all-time Division I home run leader capped her career by going 12-for-18 with five home runs in the WCWS, boosting her batting average to .515 on the season while setting series records for most home runs (five) and most runs scored (12). It’s a WCWS tradition for the ushers to give players’ families the home run balls that are hit; the Alo clan is headed back to Hawaii with a suitcase stuffed with severely dented softballs.
Of course, teams don’t win 41 games by mercy rule because of one star player. Oklahoma averaged 9.33 runs per game this season, while no other team averaged more than 8.0. If you took away all of Alo’s 85 RBIs, the Sooners still would’ve averaged 7.93 runs per game, which would have been good enough to rank second in the nation. Behind Alo in the batting order is Tiare Jennings, who led Division I in RBIs. It was fairly common for teams to walk Alo, only for Jennings to belt a home run—something that happened against Texas Wednesday night. (Alo and Jennings went on to hit back-to-back home runs.)
And in addition to having the best offense in softball, Oklahoma also had the best pitching staff. It finished the season with a 0.97 ERA; Wichita State was second with a 1.46 ERA. (To be fair, Oklahoma’s pitchers didn’t have to pitch to Oklahoma’s hitters.) The Sooners allowed just 65 runs in 61 games, while three Oklahoma hitters individually scored at least that many. Sooners pitchers threw eight no-hitters, with two in the NCAA tournament.
Oklahoma was even amazing at defense. Outfielder Jayda Coleman robbed a Texas home run in Thursday night’s championship clincher.
Dominance can sometimes be dull—but it never felt that way for a team that took joy in kicking opponents’ asses in every possible way. It makes me glad the championship series doesn’t feature a mercy rule. For once, we got to see exactly what happens when the Sooners keep piling on.
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