OKLAHOMA CITY — USF softball was the unseeded surprise team making its College World Series debut Thursday while Oklahoma was the national powerhouse in its seventh appearance playing a half-hour from campus at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Yet in the bottom of the fourth, USF had a 1-0 lead, ace Sara Nevins pitching a no-hitter with five strikeouts against a lineup featuring three All-Americans.
That changed suddenly. Destinee Martinez singled. Then freshman Lauren Chamberlain, one of the All-Americans, crushed a home run to straightaway center for a 2-1 lead, and the Sooners pulled away for a 5-1 victory.
"The margin of error becomes smaller at this level against a great hitting team like that," USF coach Ken Eriksen said of a Sooners lineup that hit its nation-high 96th homer compared to his team's 27. "Their team took advantage of a couple of mistakes we made pitching-wise. You've got to play flawless softball to move into the winners' bracket."
Instead, the Bulls (50-13) get today off, then play an elimination game at noon Saturday against LSU, the only other unseeded team in the World Series. The Tigers lost 5-3 to top-seeded Cal.
Win there, and the Bulls play again Saturday night. Then they would have to win twice more on Sunday to reach the best-of-three championship series.
USF was outnumbered in the capacity crowd, but its fans wore neon green T-shirts reading, "Feed the Mouse," Eriksen's phrase for sending grounders to the steady glove of senior third baseman Jessica Mouse.
"I'm so thankful our fans were able to make it out to Oklahoma City," Mouse said. "It's definitely nice to have people cheering for you in your corner, especially when you're going up against a team that's 20 miles down the road. They've got the whole state behind them."
USF got a runner in scoring position with one out in the first and in the third. In the fourth, Mouse reached on an error. She went to second on a groundout, and pinch-runner Courtney Goff scored on a two-out single by shortstop Kourtney Salvarola.
"That's a tough place to play," Eriksen said. "You're playing in front of a lot of hometown people. My team just showed me what they're made of because they didn't show any type of nervousness whatsoever."
USF trailed 2-1 in the sixth. But Chamberlain (who has 28 home runs) doubled, and pitcher and fellow All-American Keilani Ricketts — who had 11 strikeouts — tripled. She scored on a two-out single. Oklahoma (51-8) closed its scoring with a bases-loaded walk, reaching five runs for the 14th game in a row.
Nevins, a Pinellas Park High graduate, had allowed only three earned runs over 18 postseason innings. The sophomore allowed five Thursday over 4? innings but earned the respect of Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso.
"Sara Nevins is a tough, tough lefty; very, very good pitcher," she said. "I wouldn't want to face her again. I hope we don't."
Other games: Dallas Escobedo allowed just five hits and an unearned run to lead Arizona State past Oregon 3-1. … Cassie Reilly-Boccia's three-run double highlighted a four-run first as Alabama beat Tennessee 5-3. … Jamia Reid singled in the go-ahead run in the sixth as Cal beat LSU 5-3.