OKLAHOMA CITY -- With Oklahoma fans packing ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Thursday night’s Women’s College World Series opener seemed like a home game for the Sooners.
The defending national champions were clearly comfortable in their element.
Nicole Pendley slugged a three-run homer in the first inning to give ace Paige Parker all the support she needed as the No. 10 Sooners roared to a 6-3 win over No. 15 Baylor.
Parker allowed five hits and an unearned run in six innings as the Sooners (57-9) advanced to Friday’s winner’s bracket game at 8:30 p.m. against No. 6 Washington. Baylor (48-14) will face No. 3 Oregon in an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Washington beat Oregon, 3-1, earlier Friday.
Making their fourth World Series appearance and first since 2014, the Lady Bears quickly fell into a 4-0 hole in the first inning and never recovered against one of the top pitchers in the country. The Sooners beat the Lady Bears for the third time in four games this season.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the game,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “The first inning really doomed us. Playing a team like Oklahoma you got to keep the score close to have a chance to win. Their pitching is too good. I’m proud of the way we fought. But we dug too deep of a hole.”
Baylor ace Kelsee Selman (24-9) was shaky from the start as the Sooners loaded the bases in the first inning with singles by Nicole Mendes and Shay Knighten and a walk to Sydney Romero. Fale Aviu brought in the first run with a sacrifice fly.
Pendley came through with the big blow as she sent her team-leading 17th homer of the season over the left-field fence to give the Sooners a 4-0 lead.
Selman allowed nine hits, a walk and six runs in five innings before Gia Rodoni relieved in the sixth.
“That game’s on me,” Selman said. “If I wouldn’t have had that first inning we would have won the ballgame 3-2. That lineup is really good. Today they were really aggressive. They bring different things to the table."
Baylor responded with a run in the second off Parker (24-5) as Oklahoma made a pair of errors.
Shelby McGlaun reached on Romero’s error at third base and Maddison Kettler reached on a bunt. Pinch runner Riley Browder advanced on Knighten’s error at first base and scored on Jessie Scroggins’ ground out.
The Sooners answered with a run in the third as Caleigh Clifton singled and scored on Aviu’s base hit.
Oklahoma scored another run in the fourth, and Baylor was fortunate it wasn’t a bigger inning.
Macey Hatfield and Lea Wodoch opened the inning with bunt singles. Baylor second baseman Ari Hawkins reached first base late on the first bunt and failed to cover first on the second bunt. After Kelsey Arnold reached on an infield single, Selman hit Clifton with a pitch to give the Sooners a 6-1 lead.
Selman escaped further damage when she forced Knighten to fly out and Romero to ground out to end the inning.
“In the huddle, I just told them to have fun,” Selman said. “You’re at the Women’s College World Series. Not that we were OK with having those little mistakes, but just have fun and relax. We got out of that inning with just the one run, which that was on me, of course.”
After Paige Lowary relieved in the seventh, the Lady Bears scored two runs as the Sooners made two more errors.
Kettler picked up her third hit of the game before Scroggins reached on Romero’s second error. Caitlin Charlton reached on an error by Knighten to bring a run across before Scroggins scored on Lindsey Cargill’s grounder to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 6-3.
Lowary finished off the win when Kyla Walker grounded out.
“I know going into that inning, we were down a lot,” Kettler said. “Knowing Lowary was coming in, just taking one pitch at a time, it wasn’t going to come with just one swing.”
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso was disappointed her team made four errors but she said Baylor puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
“Baylor is a good team that makes your defense play, and we felt that pressure tonight,” Gasso said. “We’ll definitely clean up on defense. That’s something that’s not uncommon the first game of the World Series but it didn’t seem to hurt us enough. We were able to hold on.”