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Women's College World Series: Shay Knighten's clutch home run not enough in WCWS thriller

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Senior first baseman Shay Knighten hugs a coach after the game against UCLA for the national championship June 3.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Shay Knighten is no stranger to big late-inning moments.

Her career at Oklahoma is littered with crucial plays on the biggest stage, earning her the nickname "Big Play Shay." A walk-off home run in the eighth inning against Alabama in the 2016 Women's College World Series. A three-run walk-off home run in the 17th inning in the WCWS championship against Florida in 2017. A home run against UCLA in game one of 2019's WCWS championship.

Knighten did what she's done her whole career in game two of the WCWS championship on Tuesday night. In the top of the seventh inning, Knighten stepped to the plate and was staring down UCLA's Rachel Garcia, the two-time USA Softball National Player of the Year. The Sooners were down a run and had two outs. It was all on her.

Garcia tossed her pitch, Knighten made contact, and the ball went sailing over the left-center field wall. Even with her laundry list of highlight plays, she said this one is the most special.

"It ranks pretty high. Everything with this team, this senior class, with these coaches, this season, it's been very special," Knighten said. "Me to go out that way is really cool. To get to round the bases and see Sooner Nation, my teammates in there just so happy and so excited. It has to rank at the top."

UCLA's Kinsley Washington would hit a two-out RBI single to score Jacqui Prober in the bottom of the seventh, and the Bruins left Hall of Fame Stadium with the program's 13th NCAA championship. 

After a 16-3 loss to UCLA in game one of the series on Monday, it seemed like game two could be a repeat of game one. Within her first four pitches in the bottom of the first inning, junior Giselle Juarez gave up two solo home runs and the Sooners were looking at an early 2-0 deficit.

UCLA hit two more solo shots on Juarez during the game, but she managed to keep the rest of the Bruins' offense in check. They didn't score any runs outside of those home runs until Washington's walk-off.

"For me, it was just about fighting back and giving us a shot to get back in there," Juarez said. "They kept telling me, 'We got you, we got you,' and I absolutely 100% believed them."

With Juarez poised to battle in the circle and Knighten's clutch hitting, the Sooners demonstrated a level of resilience that made coach Patty Gasso proud. 

"I don't think words can express (how proud I am)," Gasso said. "We had probably one of the worst games we've ever played, and to come back the way that we did, I couldn't be more proud of this group."

After winning two consecutive WCWS titles in 2016 and 2017, Oklahoma fell to Washington in the semifinals in 2018. Throughout this season, Gasso and her squad have talked about their quest for redemption.

The Sooners were just two wins short of achieving that redemption. Their 57-6 overall record was full of historic achievements, such as a program record 41-game win streak and a second consecutive 18-0 season in Big 12 play.

But UCLA proved to be the Sooners' kryptonite. The two teams battled three times throughout the year, with the Bruins winning all three. After the game, Gasso had only positive things to say about UCLA.

"They were on a mission. We were on a mission," Gasso said. "But what we did today I'll never forget."

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