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Women’s College World Series Preview Pt 1: The Field

A look at the seven other teams in Oklahoma City.

FloSports: FloSoftball SEC Tournament Wade Payne-USA TODAY Sports

LSU is back in Oklahoma City. If the Tigers want to capture a title, they will have to deal with several strong opponents.

No.1 Florida Gators (55-8, 20-3 SEC)

How they got here: The Gators have been national championship favorites since the pre-season. Florida entered the Women’s College World Series with the No.1 RPI in the nation, having wins against Michigan and Florida State, and finished as SEC regular season champs. More recently, the Gators came back from a game down to Alabama in the last round to advance to Oklahoma City:

What they do well: The Florida Gators have the best pitching staff in the country. UF has a combined team ERA of .69 and three pitchers ranked in the top-10 nationally in ERA. Keep in mind, they face top level competition all season, which can’t be said for other teams with impressive totals. The ace of the staff is Kelly Barnhill who leads the nation with a .37 ERA and whose 333 strikeouts are sixth best nationally. Delanie Gourley is also outstanding with a .142 Opp BA, while Aleshia Ocasio sports a 1.18 ERA

Where they struggle: Like the Tigers, Florida is prone to having some offensive outages. The totals across the season are good, but the Gators have dropped some games due to the offense failing to score more than one run.

No.9 Texas a&M Aggies (47-11, 16-7 SEC)

How they got here: After cruising for most of the regular season, things got shaky with losses to Kentucky and Tennessee late in the season and then failing to win a game in the SEC Tournament. In the postseason, the Aggies swept their regional opponents and then came from a game down to beat Tennessee to to advance to the finals.

What they do well: The Aggies best asset is depth, both at the plate and in the circle. Riley Sartain (12 HR, .652 SLG, .453 OBP) and Tori Vidales (.305 AVG, 46 RBI, .445 OBP) of an Aggie lineup with five players slugging north of .500 and seven players sporting an OBP above .400. Samantha Show and Lexi Smith both posted solid strikeout totals with 118 and 117 respectively.

Where they struggle: A&M’s pitching has not been great since the end of April. Several of the Aggies losses have come when the pitching staff has surrendered five runs or more. A&M pitching finished third from the bottom in SEC in walks. Furthermore, while Texas A&M has several good hitters, they may lack that one consistent, elite bat that the opposition has to worry about.

No.5 UCLA Bruins (47-13, 16-8 PAC-12)

How they got here: The Bruins enter the WCWS with some experience on their side, having played every team remaining in the tournament, except for Texas A&M, during the regular season. UCLA finished third in the Pac-12 and cruised through the regional, before securing a pair of one-run victories against Ole Miss to advance to Oklahoma City.

What they do well: Power is present throughout the UCLA lineup and a Bruin has homered in 11 straight games. Delaney Spaulding, Madeline Jelenicki, Brianna Tautalafua and Bubba Nickles all have 10 plus home runs. Spaulding also sports a .727 slugging percentage while Jelenicki was an RBI machine with 69, good for seventh best in the nation.

Where they struggle: The Bruins have a good pitcher in Rachel Garcia, but not the depth of some other teams. When the Bruins do lose, they can be prone to giving up lots of runs. Earlier in the year, when the Bruins faced LSU, UCLA blew a 4-0 lead using three different pitchers to eventually win on a walk-off in the bottom of the eighth.

No.3 Oregon Ducks (52-6, 17,6 PAC-12)

How they got here: Oregon hit a rough patch in the season when they lost three consecutive conference series, which included UCLA and Washington, the other two Pac-12 schools in Oklahoma City. Since then, Oregon is riding a 15-game winning streak including a sweep of then No.2 Florida State and a come from behind win against Kentucky in the super regional clincher.

What they do well: Oregon brings one of the most balanced teams in the country to OKC, with a scoring offense and team ERA that are both top-5 in the nation. Nikki Udria is arguably the top bat with a team best 10 HR and a .627 SLG, and one of four ducks with 40 plus RBI’s on the season. In the circle, Oregon’s Megan Kleist and Maggie Balint both have sub-1 ERA’s and have combined for 297 strikeouts.

Where they struggle: It’s hard to find an apparent weakness on paper. One could point to the two series losses against UCLA and Washington as read flags. Or that the pitching staff is inexperienced, with the most senior member being sophomore Kleist. The Duck lineup collectively is good, but may lack a dynamic bat outside of Udria.

No.6 Washington Huskies (48-12, 16-8 PAC-12)

How they got here: Regular season play was interesting for the Huskies with good series wins against Oregon and Alabama but an 0-6 record against UCLA and Arizona. They appear to be peaking at the right time with the only loss since April 29th coming against Utah in the super regional.

What they do well: Washington has several dynamic hitters in its lineup and ranks 10th nationally with a .507 slugging percentage. Morganne Flores stands out, leading the team with 13 home runs and 73 RBI. Ali Aguilar (12 HR, .661 SLG) and Casey Stangel (52 RBI, .613 SLG) add to the offensive depth of the Huskies.

Where they struggle: In the circle, Taran Alevo has started the all six postseason games for the Huskies and has done well so far. Having more than one reliable arm is critical at this time of the year and it’s unclear if UW has confidence in any other pitcher. Alevo might also be the subject of some fatigue, having pitched 232.2 innings with the next closest Husky pitcher, Madi Schreyer, having thrown just 81.1 innings.

No.10 Oklahoma Sooners (56-9, 17-1 Big 12)

How they got here: The reigning national champions are looking to make it two in a row. OU has looked pretty convincing this postseason after dropping the regional opener, winning every game since. In Big 12 play, the Sooners were no match for any of their conference opponents, with the only loss coming to opening round opponent Baylor.

What they do well: Offensively, the Sooners are a versatile group that can score in multiple ways. In the power department, Nicole Pendly, Shay Knighten and Sydney Romero each have double-digit home runs and 50 plus RBI’s. The Sooners also have stolen north of 100 bases this year, led by Caleigh Clifton’s 19 and Romero’s 15. Paige Parker and Paige Lowary are two great pitchers.

Where they struggle: Early in the regular season, OU had some difficulty against some of the better teams on the schedule. Through their first 13 games against teams that at the time were ranked or had received votes, the Sooners were just 6-7. In fairness that was earlier in the season and Oklahoma’s path to Oklahoma City, which included a sweep of Auburn, suggests these out of conference struggles could be behind them.

No. 15 Baylor Bears (48-13, 13-5 Big 12)

How they got here: The Bears needed two games of late inning comeback heroics to knock off Arizona in the super regionals. That doesn't mean the Bears are a fluke. Wins over ranked Arizona State, UCLA and Michigan, along with handing Oklahoma its lone Big 12 loss, show that although the Bears be the lowest seed remaining, they very much can play with anyone.

What they do well: Baylor is going to create havoc on the base paths. Lindsey Cargill’s 34 bases lead the team and is one of four regulars with 10 plus stolen bases on the season. The Bears also have two quality starters in Gia Rodoni and Kelsee Selman. Of the two, Rodoni is a little more adept at preventing runners from scoring, leading Baylor with a 1.57 ERA. Selman leads the team in strikeouts with 196.

Where they could struggle: When Baylor gets runners on it can cause problems. Getting runners on can be a bit tough as the Bears rank just 30th in the nation in OBP. Power could also be the problem with the team slugging .446.