It had to end someday, and Alabama and Oklahoma have made it happen. They have prevented the College World Series softball title from landing in the hands of a Pac-12 champion for yet another year.
Alabama took down No. 1 seed California on Sunday and Oklahoma beat defending national champion Arizona State, and now the two of them will battle it out for top honors in a best-of-three series beginning on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.
If the Crimson Tide win, it will be their first CWS title. Oklahoma last won it all in 2000.
And thus, the Pac-12's reign has come to an end. Not only has the champion emerged from that conference in each of the last six years, but it's the first time since 1986 that a Pac-12 representative hasn't been in the finals. The Big 12 has never had a champion, nor has the SEC.
The good news is, one of these two teams has no choice but to make history.
Where: Oklahoma City, Okla.
When: Monday, June 4, 7 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3
Bracket: Super Regionals and World Series
What They're Saying
It might have been Jackie Traina and Kaila Hunt who spearheaded Sunday's win over California and sealed Alabama's trip to the championship, but the Crimson Tide seniors have been the heart and soul of this team's road to the finals.
Three years ago, the Crimson Tide experienced the highest of highs when then-freshman Jazlyn Lunceford hit a pinch-hit grand slam in an elimination game; the next day, they experienced the lowest of lows when they surrendered a grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, which ended their season.
Since then, this group of seniors has spent two years trying to get to the finals, coming excruciatingly close and then failing—all of which makes this trip much sweeter. Without those trials, it may not have even happened at all.
As Kelly Clarkson (et al.) would say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Crimson Tide senior Cassie Reilly-Boccia told ESPN.com's Graham Hays:
It was a lot of devastation when you think about losing two seasons in a row on a walk-off. And you just work so hard to get somewhere, and then when you don't get there, it's such a huge letdown. But at the same time, I really don't think we'd be in the championship game had we not went through that as a senior class or went through that as a coaching staff. We've gone through so much adversity, I think it's only helped us along the way.
To earn a trip to the CWS championship, the Sooners had to defeat Goliath, and they did on Sunday, thanks primarily to the work of Keilani Ricketts. It took 2.5 hours, 156 pitches and 13 strikeouts—five of which came in the final six outs—but she got the job done to help Oklahoma earn a 5-3 win over the mighty Sun Devils.
Ricketts gave up her first earned run in 40 innings with two outs in the top of the first inning on Sunday, but after surrendering an early 2-0 lead, she shook it off and refocused on the ultimate goal, which she still managed to achieve when all was said and done.
Her coach, Patty Gasso, told the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig, "I've seen Keilani Ricketts turn from a girl into a woman in two years. She's reaching new heights here and setting herself apart from the field."
But will her arm be too tired to allow her to compete where it really matters—in the finals against a Crimson Tide team that is just as hungry as the Sooners?
Alabama wins its first College World Series.
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