The Walk-Off: Oklahoma downs Duke in Mexico, Charlotte Stuns Florida State

The Walk-Off is Softball America’s daily recap of the biggest games of each day. We’ll focus on the biggest moments with real-time analysis throughout the day as games start and finish. Every game mentioned in the Walk-Off will be watched with our own eyes through the various streams and television platforms.

Note: The Walk-Off is free for opening day but will require a membership in the future. 

No. 1 Oklahoma shuts out No. 9 Duke in Mexico

One of the biggest storylines coming into the season was what Kelly Maxwell would look like in a Sooner uniform. She didn’t have a 10-plus strikeout performance as she’s done many times before, Maxwell got the win by throwing five scoreless innings in Oklahoma’s 3-0 win over Duke.

The Blue Devils went right after Maxwell by immediately attacking her riseball. D’Auna Jennings singled to open the game. An Ana Gold hit-by-pitch put runners in scoring position for the crafty lefty. Maxwell shut down the threat by striking out Aminah Vega with a full arsenal of pitches.

Maxwell opened the second with a leadoff walk to Kelly Torres. Free passes plagued her last season in Stillwater. Her defense helped her out. Torres moved over to second on a bunt. Then, Maxwell threw an errant pitch on the outer half that Kinzie Hansen backhanded and made a perfect toss to third to get the stealing Torres.

The Oklahoma State transfer settled in after a rocky start. Maxwell retired the last 11 batters she faced before exiting for Karlie Keeney. Duke made contact throughout the day, but never seemingly squared it up aside from a few times when it was hit right at the corners for outs. Maxwell finished with two Ks but it’s a reminder she can win in different ways and that strikeouts aren’t always needed to be successful with an Oklahoma defense behind you.

It feels repetitive, but Oklahoma’s constant ability to adjust the second and third time through the order is incredible. Duke’s electric lefty Cassidy Curd appeared to have opening-day jitters. She didn’t have control of her riseball early, missing badly up in the zone. Curd walked the first two batters of the game and the Sooners were already in business.

Curd adjusted and started to live more down in the zone with her go-to curveball and a changeup. She struck out Tiare Jennings, got Hansen to pop up and Alyssa Brito to fly out unscathed. Curd kept rolling into the third inning, that was until Jennings came up again. The veteran infielder sat on Curd’s off-speed on the outside of the plate and drove it out of the park.

As they typically do, the Sooner smelled blood in the water after that. The frame kept rolling. Alynah Torres batted off a handful of pitches before lining a single to the outfield and freshman Kasidi Pickering – who started her career earlier in the day with a grand slam against Utah Valley – added two insurance runs. Curd was then forced out of the game.

The Blue Devils threatened in the seventh, loading the bases against Keeney. Nevertheless, a run never came across. Keeney struck out the next batter and Jennings made a nice play on an awkward hop to end the game. Jennings looks the part at shortstop defensively and collected three hits on the day.

Duke witnessed solid innings from Lillie Walker and Jala Wright following Curd’s exit. Truthfully, the Blue Devils showed they belong among the best. The youthful lineup had a tough day against a veteran All-American. But, it rounds back to the summary of the past few seasons. If you’re not perfect, it is hard to defeat softball’s Death Star.

Canady, Kern, Koch star as No. 4 Stanford edges past No. 25 San Diego State

The star power of NiJaree Canady and Taryn Kern was on full display in the Cardinal’s 3-0 win over San Diego State. The electric righty that took the nation by storm last year started where she left off. The complete game one-hitter included 15 strikeouts against the Aztecs, a Super Regional participant from last season. 

Of course, the riseball was there, and as many hitters that have faced Canady, Mac Barbara is probably okay never seeing it again. The dangerous lefty truly had no answer for the pitch, especially in the first at-bat where Canady got her to swing through three straight pitches. Canady is always going to use that pitch, it’s arguably the best in the nation. She certainly seemed to have a few new tricks up her sleeve, but that was expected knowing the amount of film teams were going to watch on her. In the seventh, she had a very impressive changeup to Cali Decker that did appear to have a string on the other end of it. If Canady starts working that pitch efficiently, good luck to hitters around the country. 

Meanwhile, Kern had a rough time against Allie Light, one of the best arms in the country herself. Light got Kern to strike out twice which included a backward K on the inside corner. Despite retiring nine straight, Light was relieved for Dee Dee Hernandez to start the sixth inning and Kern made the most of it. She was able to turn on the first pitch see saw against Hernandez, sending it down the line for a triple. Aly Kaneshiro singled her in the next at-bat to break the scoreless contest. 

That’s what was so important about the Kern addition. Stanford’s going to win a lot of low-scoring games, and even though it wasn’t a home run, Kern changed the complexion of the game in one swing. 

Though maybe she wanted Caelan Koch to have that spotlight. Koch was leading the team in home runs last year before an injury running the bases ended her season. She returned Thursday, playing a new position at first base, and crushed a two-run blast in the sixth inning as well. 

Stanford’s offense was never going to become an Oklahoma unit overnight. It doesn’t need too. It’s clear that Kern and Koch are true X-factors, it certainly helps to have the NiJaree Canady as well. 

In hindsight, San Diego State may regret taking out Light, but seems unlikely. The Aztecs only had three complete games all of last year and it worked for them. They lost to a really good team and were in it till the end.

Charlotte notches first top-five win program history, upsets Florida State on the road in Tallahassee.

Starters: Emma Wilson (FSU), Lena Elkins (Charlotte)
W: Sam Gress (1-0)
L: Emma Wilson (0-1)

Charlotte outlasted Florida State in an extra-inning thriller on Thursday evening at Joanne Graf Field to bring home their first top-five win in program history. The 49ers started the game swinging, jumping out to an early one-run lead in the first frame. Cori Hoffler got things going with a one-out double to left-center that nearly snuck over the fence. Ella Chancey followed with an opposite-field triple to score Hoffler.

Chancey lived up to the preseason rankings at third base ending the day going 3-for-5 with two RBIs.

Florida State answered back in the bottom of the second inning with a three-spot fueled by an RBI single off the bat of the rookie Jaysoni Beachum. It was a quick hook for Charlotte starter Lena Elkins as Brooke Bowling entered the game with two outs in the second to face Kaley Mudge. It was an even shorter hook for Bowling as the righthander quickly exited the game after one batter and questionable illegal pitch calls. Charlotte’s third pitcher of the inning, Georgeanna Barefoot, surrendered a double to Jahni Kerr to give the Noles a 3-1 lead.

Note: There are still questions regarding the new pitching rule and the interpretation of the replant verbiage. Lexi Winters (CLT) had blue tape across her catcher’s gear. Both will be addressed on the SA Podcast.

After two clean frames in the third and fourth, the 49ers tied the game in the top of the fifth on three balls that never left the dirt and a wild pitch. This seemed to be the beginning of FSU’s pitching woes.

However, Kalei Harding answered right back in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out single followed by a Devyn Flaherty triple to center putting the Noles on top, 5-3.

Scouting note: Charlotte’s outfield was pulled to normal depth with Harding at the plate. Harding lifted a ball over the Abigail Knight in left field to keep the two-out rally alive.

The 49er offense was not phased. In fact, they just kept chipping away. Arianna Rodi launched a deep solo shot to center in the sixth and you could feel the momentum tipping the scales heading into the seventh.

Down by a single run, Chancey led off the inning with a single to right field only to be called out for interference on the next play on what looked like a hit-and-run. Rodi’s clutch single up the middle, prompted Florida State starter Emma Wilson – who already surpassed her 2023 innings total on Thursday – to re-enter the game with runners on the corners. Wilson delivered a strikeout on a ball up in the zone and was just one out away from closing out the game. A hit-by-pitch and a bases-loaded walk allowed Mitchell to cross the plate and even the score again, 5-5.

Into extras…

Florida State celebrated in the bottom of the eighth as if they had won the game only to learn the umpiring crew overturned the call at first base. Charlotte head coach Ashley Chastain challenged the ruling and won.

In the tenth, Dirks doubled to left and scored on a Knight single to right. Gress shut the door to pick up her first win of the season.

Softball around America

  • No. 22 Washington’s 8-0 run-rule win over No. 15 Nebraska was certainly impressive. But the biggest takeaway from the evening was Jordy Bahl’s exit. Her Nebraska debut was shortlived after she sustained an injury after a pitch in the third inning in which she needed help to get off the field. It was all Huskies after that. Freshman Jadyn Glab and talented sophomore Alana Johnson combined for the team’s seven RBIs (the other run was scored on a wild pitch). Ruby Meylan tossed a five-inning complete game, holding every Husker batter outside of Ava Bredwell hitless. 
  • Transfers in the SEC didn’t waste time making a first impression. 
    • Kayla Beaver tossed a no-hitter in No. 21 Alabama’s 3-0 win over Villanova. Beaver struck out 14 batters and only walked one to produce the program’s 46th no-hitter.
    • Sophia Nugent had a three-run blast and an RBI double for the Lady Vols. 
    • Bri Ellis had four RBIs in Arkansas’ doubleheader sweep over Marshall and FAU. 
  • Valerie Cagle’s play will always be the most important part of her legacy at Clemson. However, she has opened the door for other young stars to come into the program. And Julia Knowler might be the next. The freshman who is also a two-way player hit two homers in her debut against Missouri State. 
  •  Speaking of Taryn Kern, Indiana reminded us that they still have a talented roster that made the NCAA Tournament last season. The Hoosiers jumped on No. 16 Oregon behind Brianna Copeland’s triple and three-run blast on their win to the 7-5 upset victory. Copeland also got the win in the circle, throwing 5.1 innings. The lineup with Copeland, Cora Bassett and Taylor Minnick showed they are here to stay. 
  • BYU had quite an interesting day. The Cougars trailed Kansas City 8-0 and gave up three runs to Ole Miss in the seventh in the second leg of a doubleheader. Yet, BYU ended the day 2-0. The Cougars scored 17 unanswered runs to beat Kansas City and quickly scored seven runs to go up on Ole Miss. Maddie Bejarano finished the day with five hits and five RBIs, good for an OPS over 2.000.
  • USF freshmen Julia Apostolakos and Alex Wright combined to throw a five-inning no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. Though one could argue that the nine-inning shutout by Payton Dixon, Belle Sardja and Lexie Kopko against Illinois State was almost as impressive.
  • Howard outlasted reigning regular season Big East champ UConn in an 8-7 slugfest. Bianca Worthy drove in three runs including one in the sixth that helped build the Bison’s lead and eventual win. 
  • Let’s show love to Georgia Tech’s Jin Sileo, who has most definitely been one of the best defensive shortstops in recent years because of plays like this: 

 

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