Your guide to the 2023 WCWS: X factors, expert picks and the biggest challenge facing OU

The Women’s College World Series is here, and seven teams are looking to end Oklahoma’s reign atop the college softball world.

The two-time defending champion Sooners are seeking to become only the second team to three-peat at the WCWS. Oklahoma, which used a thrilling comeback in Saturday’s super regional, is riding the longest winning streak in Division I history thanks to an offense that leads the country in scoring and a pitching staff ranked No. 1 in ERA.

As red-hot as the Sooners are, a championship in Oklahoma City is not guaranteed. Since seeding began in 2005, only seven No. 1 seeds (including Oklahoma’s 2021 and 2022 squads) won the national championship.

Standing in their way is a field that includes No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Tennessee, No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Washington, No. 9 Stanford and No. 15 Utah.

Florida State (2018), Alabama (2012) and Washington (2009) are the only other schools among the final eight-team field that have hoisted the championship trophy.

Our experts break down the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma’s chances at making history, the matchups they’re looking forward to watching and who the ultimate difference-maker could be over the next week.

More softball coverage:
Complete WCWS schedule

What is something that could stop Oklahoma from winning it all again?

Jenny Dalton-Hill: We saw multiple pitching changes with high-caliber pitchers effectively attack the Sooners this season. Clemson used multiple pitchers in the supers and came close to beating them. One pitch away from a victory. Oklahoma had hiccups defensively in those pressure situations. While Oklahoma’s lineup is completely stacked with reserves on the bench, finding a way to make the Sooners uncomfortable is the only way to beat them.

Amanda Scarborough: The game-planning of Florida State. Florida State’s coaching staff always comes up with the best plans in terms of defensive shifts, pitching to matchups and unique approaches to hit off each pitcher they face. The players are always prepared and confident in their plans. Plus, many of their players have WCWS experience.

Kayla Braud: A pitching duo the Sooners haven’t seen this season could be the difference for someone looking to beat Oklahoma. Think Stanford’s Alana Vawter and NiJaree Canady, who didn’t throw in their early-season matchup, or Tennessee’s Payton Gottshall and Ashley Rogers.

Which team’s path to the WCWS is the most impressive?

Dalton-Hill: Stanford made a difficult decision in March that ultimately set it up to succeed in the postseason. Resting Nijaree Canady for four weeks due to shoulder soreness allowed her to be rested, pain free and dominant at the end of the season. It was a gutsy call by Jessica Allister to rest her freshman, but that made all the difference.

Scarborough: Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls’ record coming into the NCAA tournament in their last 13 games was 2-11, and quite frankly, they just looked off. But in between the Selection Show and the first day of regionals, they have reset and completely turned things around. They’re a perfect 5-0 in the tournament, are outscoring their opponents 38-3 and look like the team we saw in February and March that was dominating its opponents.

Braud: There’s quite a few people who questioned Alabama’s No. 5 seed in the tournament and saw it as an easier path to the WCWS. Yet with the injury to Montana Fouts and an offense that doesn’t average many runs per game, what the Crimson Tide did in the past two weeks was nothing short of impressive. Jaala Torrence’s performance in the regional round without Fouts and then their comeback in supers after dropping Game 1 to the Big Ten champs showed the fight of the Tide.

What’s an X factor you’re looking forward to watching?

Dalton-Hill: I’m looking for which team celebrates the small stuff the best That’s the team that usually is in the driver’s seat. Energy in a dugout is contagious on the field. A dugout that goes quiet translates to flat play. Oklahoma has been doing this all season. Can other schools keep up the energy in the long days of Oklahoma heat? Emotion and energy from nonstarters make a huge impact.

Scarborough: Aly Kaneshiro from Stanford. She is a leader back behind the plate for the Cardinal’s tremendous pitching staff, throws out would-be base stealers and, in the NCAA tournament, her bat has been hot. She is a leader who has been steady and strong for Stanford in the NCAA tourney.

Braud: Elite baserunning. Teams like Florida State and Tennessee have proved that baserunning can be the difference in winning close ballgames. Stolen bases and finding a run with high instincts on the basepaths might just be the difference in a few ballgames at the WCWS.

Who is your pick for WCWS MOP?

Dalton-Hill: I like Tennessee’s Kiki Milloy. If she can continue to put up impressive numbers, she has a chance, but typically the MOP comes from the championship team. I think Oklahoma wins the natty this year, so my vote would go to Tiare Jennings. Her consistent power, unfailing defense and clutch performances always have me cheering for her.

Scarborough: Tiare Jennings. She’s one of the most clutch, consistent and fun-to-watch players at the WCWS. Her experience as a three-year starter with two national championships and her ability to come through in the big moments is special.

Braud: Jayda Coleman. Coleman has put up unreal numbers in the leadoff spot for OU this season, is the emotional leader on the team and can change the game with her power and speed. Not to mention she can rob home runs with the best of them in center field.

Who will be the final two teams standing?

Dalton-Hill: This year will come down to Tennessee and Oklahoma. I’m excited to watch these teams show out.

Scarborough: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Braud: Oklahoma and Tennessee.

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