It was vintage Gators softball that fueled a 7-1 win on Thursday over Oregon State in the opener of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. Florida advanced to the winner’s bracket where they’ll take on Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

How did they do it? By piling up base hits (13), going station to station, using team speed to disrupt and force the Oregon State defense into 4 errors, and Natalie Lugo out of the bullpen with an unbelievable effort. All the things that got Florida (49-17) to the WCWS. And, in the year of the home run, they even added a rare blast for good measure.


Lugo to the rescue

Lugo, now 12-5 with a 1.84 ERA, came on to work out of a 2nd inning jam. She entered with the bases loaded and no outs and retired the next three batters in order.

She continued her mastery over the final 5 innings. In all, Lugo set down 18 of the 19 batters she faced, allowing just 1 hit while striking out 6 along the way. It was her longest outing since going 6 innings against James Madison on Feb. 27.

It was Lugo’s 29th appearance this season and certainly her most impressive since tossing a complete-game 2-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Villanova on Feb. 19.

She kept Oregon State in check while the offense went to work, erasing a 1-0 deficit with 2 runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning to take the lead for good. The Gators added 2 more in 4th and put the game out of reach with a 3-run 5th inning.

Lindsey leads the attack

Cheyenne Lindsey led the attack with 3 hits and 3 runs scored. It was her 20th multi-hit game of the season. The Gators collected 13 hits in all and have now rung up 10-or-more hits in 6 of the 7 postseason games.

Skylar Wallace stole her 52nd base of the season, and Charla Echols was 1 of 4 Gators with multiple-hit games. She had the team’s only extra-base hits. Echols tripled and then belted a rare home run for a Gators team that was last in the SEC in that department. It was the team’s 37th homer of the season.

The Gators slapped 11 singles, 2 from Avery Goelz that produced 3 RBIs, which probably should have been 3 hits and 5 RBIs but her sharply hit line drive was called an error by the official scorer.

No. 7 seed Oklahoma State (47-12) on deck

Now that the Gators have snapped a 4-game losing streak at the WCWS, they can concentrate on the next hurdle, and it’s a key one. Florida faces Oklahoma State (50-12) in the winner’s bracket on Saturday evening. The Gators must win that game in order to remain on their side of the bracket, which also includes Arizona and Oregon State.

The way the bracket is set up, a loss on Saturday would flip the Gators to the other side of the bracket with No. 1 Oklahoma (55-2), a team some are calling the best ever in college softball. However, a win on Saturday and the Gators would not have to face the Sooners until a potential WCWS final.

The game will match Florida head coach Tim Walton with longtime assistant Kenny Gajewski, now head coach at Oklahoma State. The two helped Florida win back-to-back national championships in 2014-15 before Gajewski took over as the Cowgirls’ head coach in 2016. He has Oklahoma State in the WCWS for the 3rd consecutive season.

Oklahoma State is 1 of only 2 teams this season to defeat No. 1 Oklahoma. After being swept by the Sooners in the regular season, the Cowgirls got their revenge with a 4-3, 8-inning win over their in-state rivals in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Cowgirls can pitch, field

The Cowgirls rely heavily on pitching and defense. They were 2nd in the Big 12 with a staff ERA of 1.84. Only Oklahoma (0.84) was better. Ace Kelly Maxwell (20-4, 1.19 ERA) went the distance in the Cowgirls’ 4-2 win over Arizona in their WCWS opener on Thursday.

But with the new format this year, she’ll get a day of rest on Friday. The Cowgirls’ workhorse has thrown 176 innings this season. Still, Maxwell has only pitched back-to-back complete games 1 time this season with a day of rest in between and that was way back in February. It’ll be interesting to see what she has left or if Gajewski goes with a different starter Saturday.

Nobody in the Big 12 was better in the field than Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls posted a league-best .981 fielding percentage, committing just 28 errors.

Don’t sleep on Cowgirls’ lineup

And though their team batting might be somewhat overshadowed, it’s still a fairly potent lineup. Oklahoma State hit .295 as a team this year, 2nd in the Big 12 next to Oklahoma (.369). Five players batted above-.300, led by Katelyn Carwile (.353).

They hit 66 homers as a team, 2nd in the Big 12 next to Oklahoma (138). Julia Cottrill paced the Cowgirls with 11. They won on Thursday by a dramatic 6th-inning 3-run homer from Karli Petty, her 5th of the season.

This is definitely a dangerous team in a dangerous spot in the bracket. It’s a must-win if the Gators hope to advance through without having to meet up with Oklahoma prior to a potential championship game showdown.