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Women's College World Series: Patty Gasso's dynamic senior class departs Oklahoma after WCWS loss

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Sooners cheer in the game against UCLA for the national championship June 3.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Senior left fielder Falepolima Aviu attempted to make a throw that could save her team on the brink of elimination.

UCLA's Kinsley Washington directed a base hit right to Aviu, who picked it up and fired it to sophomore catcher Lynnsie Elam to attempt to throw out Jacqui Prober, the pinch runner on her way to either being too late to home plate or sealing a walk-off win. Prober was too fast and achieved the latter, clinching a 5-4 win. The Sooners watched as UCLA celebrated the program's 13th NCAA softball championship.

It was Aviu's last throw as a Sooner. The game was the seniors' last in crimson and cream. Oklahoma's seniors have two WCWS championships and have made four straight trips to the tournament, while accumulating a total record of 232-28. It's head coach Patty Gasso's most accomplished senior class she's ever had.

"Just understanding what these seniors have done, absolutely crazy," Gasso said. "They won as freshmen. They won as sophomores, the national championship. They finished fourth as juniors. They were one hit away from potentially winning it again.

"This is the best senior class we've ever had."

Aviu, 3B Sydney Romero, 2B Caleigh Clifton, 1B/DH Shay Knighten, and UTLs Kylie Lundberg and Raegan Rogers are departing from the Sooners.

Back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the first inning suggested round two of OU's 16-3 loss to UCLA just a day prior, but the ballgame went down to the wire.

Romero hit a one-out solo home run in the top of the third inning to get the scoring started for the Sooners. Aviu got her first hit of the WCWS championship series with an RBI single to cut UCLA's lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning. Elam was able to hit an RBI double immediately after to tie things up at 3-3.

The biggest moment of the game came from Knighten. With one out standing in between UCLA and WCWS glory, Knighten hit a solo home run to tie the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh.

Knighten seemingly lives for WCWS moments. The senior has had three memorable WCWS home runs that'll live on in Oklahoma glory: a walk-off home run against Alabama, a go-ahead three-run homer in extra innings against Florida in the 2017 championship series and Knighten's game-tying home run Tuesday night. She's leaving Oklahoma with a career .370 batting average and 42 home runs.

In the bottom of the inning with Prober on second, Aviu let the ball bounce in front of her in shallow left field to try and throw her out. The throw was on time, but the placement of it forced Elam to move more forward than necessary. Oklahoma fell victim to a heart-breaking walk off.

A season that featured the longest single-season win streak in college softball history (41), just four losses in the regular season and a second consecutive 18-0 Big 12 record was capped with a WCWS loss in two games. Nevertheless, the seniors aren't too bitter.

"That is my biggest pride and joy, is to know that I've been a part of this," Knighten said. "I've helped with this. I've given everything I've had these past four years. This senior class, I am so glad we came in together because we've made some great memories on and off the field."

Junior pitcher Giselle Juarez had to laugh a little to think about the seniors' impact on her since arriving as a transfer from Arizona State not even a year ago.

"I have said this since day one, they're uncommon," said Juarez, who dished out seven strikeouts and allowed 10 hits on Tuesday. "You won't ever find another class like them. Not just as players, goodness gracious, but for them to, like, take me in, me beginning in January. 

"They did something special for me this year by accepting me when I came on my visit, accepting me when I came in January. I opened up to them right away."

The senior class also has admirers outside of the program. UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez is one of them. Aviu, Romero and Knighten are California natives that chose Oklahoma over the Bruins. Perez was able to see their growth ever since high school play, and she faced them at the highest level of college softball competition four years later.

"I know there's a lot of seniors in that class," Perez said. "Credit them. Any time you have a class that impacts a program like that, can bring home championships, get you back to the series. There's a work ethic, a belief about that. That class will go down as putting Oklahoma in the place where they are regulars here at the World Series."

Star freshmen such as Grace Green and Grace Lyons — although she's had her fair share of WCWS woes — are just getting started. Nicole Mendes is a junior who's had a huge WCWS. Sophomore outfielder Jocelyn Alo — and her monster bat — has a very bright future with the Sooners. All have been battle tested in a starting lineup featuring Oklahoma's most decorated senior class.

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