The Morning Session
Above: The ASA Stadium, northeast of Oklahoma City. This was my home for several days in early June.
After going to bed at 2:15 Sunday morning, I got up about 9 a.m. and headed off to the stadium. My team, #2 Michigan, was facing #10 Florida State in an elimination game and I was pumped. UM was at a big disadvantage, though, having played until midnight the night before, a quirk resulting from the rainout on Thursday night and the resulting rescheduling. Despite the quick turnaround, I was confident about Michigan’s chances since they had beaten Florida State earlier in the season 10-3 and were probably the most talented team left in the tournament, and certainly the highest ranked, at #2. Surely they would win, I told myself.
On the way into the stadium, around 11:30, I bumped into the four large female Michigan fans who had sat a few rows in front of me on Friday night, but this time they were wearing yellow (well, technically "maize") instead of the blue shirts they’d been wearing during the previous games. I congratulated them on their apparel and we all cheered, “Go Blue!” People were like that during the whole tournament. Everyone was in a good mood and got along well, despite being from different parts of the country or even rooting for different teams.
It was pretty warm Sunday morning, about 80 degrees at game time, and in the shiny bleacher section out in left field, we all sweated like pigs. The vendors walking in front of the crowd did a brisk business selling cold water and snow cones. I was glad, though, when I looked around the stadium and saw an amazing number of maize-and-blue shirts and hats – including the four large ladies, who were sitting over in the right field bleachers for this game. There were a huge number of Michigan fans here and the cheers for the team were enormous. I’m not sure if people who cheered were actual die-hard Michigan fans like me or just folks who wanted someone to win other than a big school from the Southeast, which other than Michigan was basically all that was left. UM drew huge crowds at the WCWS, and of the eight teams here, I’d say that only Oklahoma drew more.
Last year in the WCWS, Michigan made it all the way to the best-of-three Championship Series, but then lost to the Florida Gators 2 games to 1, so they were the 2015 national runner-up. Michigan has won the softball championship once, back in 2005, and they were loaded with talent this year, so when Florida got eliminated by Georgia the previous weekend, Michigan appeared to be poised to win it all this year.
The game started at noon and was a scoreless draw until the third inning, when Michigan's star pitcher Megan Betsa walked a few Seminoles, and she wasn’t helped by a few Michigan fielding errors. With two outs, the Michigan right fielder dropped an easy fly ball in foul territory, perhaps distracted by the UM second baseman who was closing fast, thus giving the FSU batter another chance. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before in baseball and was thinking it could be a pivotal moment in the game – and unfortunately I was right, because Florida went on to score a run that inning. Florida State 1, Michigan 0.
But no problem, I figured, since Michigan had the most potent offense in the nation. They could easily score a few runs in the four innings left, I told myself. But it wasn’t to be. A big Michigan rally in the sixth inning was squashed by Florida State, stranding two Michigan runners, and they went on to lose to FSU, 1-0.
It just wasn’t the Wolverine’s day. Their normally-blistering bats went stone cold and they couldn’t buy a hit all day. It was a really disappointing loss by the Blue and after the final out, I was pretty down and felt sorry for the ladies, especially the seniors who wouldn’t have another chance. But Michigan had a great run this year and should be proud of their accomplishments.
Florida State 1, Michigan 0. Michigan is eliminated.
After the final out, I felt like a deflated tire because I had pinned all my hopes on the Wolverines. With the only Pac-12 school, UCLA, also out of the competition, all that were left were big schools from the Southeast and Oklahoma. Being a Midwesterner/West Coaster, I didn’t have any interest in any of the teams that were left – Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, and Oklahoma. They were pretty much all the same in my mind. I could’ve easily rooted for a small school (Louisiana-Lafayette, James Madison, Central Florida) or any team from the East, Midwest, or West Coast. But I had absolutely no interest in the remaining teams: all big, powerhouse schools from the South – or in the case of Oklahoma, with southern accents – where athletics generally trump academics.
So as I sat there while LSU and Georgia took the field, getting ready for their elimination game, I pondered my options. I could go home and watch the rest of the evening’s games on TV and maybe leave Oklahoma City tomorrow morning, skipping the championship series on Monday and Tuesday. Or I could sit here in the hot sun, watch this game that I didn’t care about, and stick around for the cooler evening games.
I pulled out my cell phone and checked the NCAA ticket exchange to see how much money I could get for my remaining tickets and noticed that the prices had plunged in the past hour, most likely because all the disappointed Michigan fans were flooding the market with their tickets. So I figured I’d stick it out, at least for a couple more days. Besides, that would give me a chance to get some things done back at the motel.
The next elimination game, between LSU and Georgia, started at 2:30 p.m. and I endured the hot weather and watched LSU triumph in this game I cared nothing about, sending the Bulldogs home.
LSU 4, Georgia 1. Georgia is eliminated.
The Evening Session
After LSU beat Georgia, I headed out of the stadium and promptly got in line for the evening’s session, which included games between #10 Florida State vs. #4 Auburn at 6:00 p.m. and #3 Oklahoma vs. #10 LSU at 8:30 p.m. After getting back into the stadium, I bought a freshly-grilled cheeseburger, large fries and a large Diet Pepsi, which really hit the spot – and was affordable at only $9. Normally concessions at large sporting events are a rip-off but I was impressed with the quality, selection and affordability of the concessions here at the WCWS.
This evening’s group of fans in Section 19 (i.e., the left field bleachers where I'd been sitting) was a lot different than the other groups I’d seen here. The group changes from session to session because most fans who buy tickets to the WCWS – at least in Section 19 – apparently sell them online, so every session’s group of fans is different. There were a few “regulars,” like the Johnny Depp lookalike and his wife, from Modesto, California, sitting a few rows behind me, and the large guy in the second row wearing his Oregon Ducks visor. But the rest of the group was new. Right in front of me sat a group of 12 folks from Texas, including four dads who consumed large quantities of beer all night long and their softball team of about eight girls, and a similar group from Oklahoma sitting on my right. The kids all made frequent trips to the concession stands, as young folks often do, but they were polite.
It was a pleasant evening and I was rooting for the two favorites, Auburn and Oklahoma, mainly because with Michigan now out of the picture, I didn’t want the tournament to drag on any longer than necessary with any additional elimination games. Of course, I was also rooting for Oklahoma because that would drive the ticket prices up and I could score a bit more for my right-field seat. Sure enough, both Auburn and Oklahoma won, so the 2-out-of-3 game championship series would start on Monday evening.
I left the stadium during the seventh (i.e., final) inning while Oklahoma was still batting and rode the shuttle bus back to the Remington Park lot, and the driver was, once again, great – humorous and thanking all of us out-of-state fans for coming to Oklahoma. I got back to my motel around 12:30 a.m., heated up some chili, watched the news, and hit the sack at 2:15 a.m.
Auburn 8, Florida State 7. Florida State is eliminated.
Oklahoma 7, LSU 3. LSU is eliminated.
Auburn to face Oklahoma in the best-of-three Championship Series to begin on Monday evening.
The 2016 Women's College World Series (WCWS): Day #4 (Sunday)