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Kinzie Hansen, Clutch Hitting Powers Oklahoma to Dramatic Comeback Victory Over Clemson

Down to their last strike, the top-ranked Sooners battled back to return to the Women's College World Series and extend their winning streak to 48 games.

NORMAN — Kinzie Hansen didn’t blink.

Oklahoma’s catcher stepped up to the plate with a pair of runners on, and an out would snap Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak.

Hansen swung and missed at Clemson pitcher Valerie Cagle’s first delivery.

She took the second, a strike, falling behind 0-2.

Then lightning struck.

Hansen didn’t let Cagle throw another pitch by her, instead launching the ball well clear of the left field fence to level the scoreboard.

“The inning before, I was sitting in the dugout watching everybody knowing that I might get a shot,” Hansen said after the game. “I knew I was going to get up. I was either going to be the last out of the game or I was going to keep it going for us. I sat in the dugout, and I was praying.

“… I really have no words. I was down 0-2, and Alyssa Brito was in my ear telling me ‘she has to beat you three times.’ I knew I was going to get another.”

Hansen darted around the bases, but even she wasn’t ready for the scene she ran into at home plate.

“I heard my teammates yelling right when I hit it, and I just wanted to get home,” she said. “It felt like a mosh pit. Everybody was just shoving each other. My tongue was bleeding. I’m pretty sure I got punched in the face.

“It was just chaotic. I knew right then and there, this team is not done in 2023 until we decide we’re done.”

The game-winning run, Tiare Jennings’ second solo shot of the day, didn’t come until the ninth inning. Still, the result was inevitable.

Clemson had the two-time defending National Champions down and out, and Hansen’s bomb sucked all the life out of the Tigers.

Jordy Bahl closed out the 8-7 win in the circle, officially clinching the Norman Super Regional in the final postseason game at Martia Hynes Field on Saturday.

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“Words cannot express what that felt like,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “An emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. Momentum. Lack of momentum.

“But in the end it was one of the most gritty performances I've seen from Jordy. (Hansen and Coleman). Look around. Everybody.”

Oklahoma’s dramatic comeback punched the Sooners’ ticket to a seventh consecutive Women’s College World Series and topped Arizona’s 47-game winning streak.

OU fans also set a new attendance record at Marita Hynes Field, packing 2,127 fans inside the park to go with the hundreds gathered in Home Run Village outside left field.

The late rally, which was the Sooners’ third comeback win in the seventh inning this year, snapped a stretch where the Tigers scored seven unanswered runs to put Oklahoma on notice.

Entering the seventh inning, the fact that OU trailed 7-4 was in itself a shock.

Gasso’s Sooners scored the first four runs of the afternoon, started off by back-to-back home runs from Jayda Coleman and Jennings in the top of the first inning.

Brito’s solo home run and a Sophia Nugent groundout delivered two more runs in the fourth inning before Clemson found their footing.

Nicole May withstood a little turbulence in the circle for OU, needing a stellar double play by Jennings to get out of the inning, but the Tigers finally got to her in the bottom of the fourth.

With two outs, Maddie Moore turned on May’s 1-2 pitch, roping a three-run shot over Rylie Boone’s head and into the left field bleachers to cut the Sooners’ advantage to 4-3.

Unlike Friday’s series opener, OU’s bats failed to find a response in the fifth, as Clemson retired the side in order.

Back at the plate, the Tigers didn’t relent.

McKenzie Clark put Clemson in front for the first time all series with a two-run home run off Sooner reliever Alex Storako.

Storako then loaded the bases, and Gasso opted for true freshman Kierston Deal to work out of the game.

Deal fired four straight balls to walk in a run, and then Moore delivered again, this time driving in a run on a fielder’s choice off Deal’s glove.

“Anytime I went in to pull a pitcher it was just a momentum change,” Gasso said. “Trying to give momentum. And that was with May and that was with Storako and that was with KD (Deal).

“… It was giving KD an opportunity to get in and just kind of stop the bleeding a little bit. And she did a nice job of that. And just trying to keep us within striking distance, which she did. That's all we needed. And the rest is history.”

Oklahoma got out of the inning, but the damage was done and Clemson took a 7-4 lead into the sixth inning.

Brito tried to start a rally with a leadoff single, but Clemson’s Valerie Cagle came in to get the Tigers out of trouble, leaving Boone, Coleman and Jennings to battle back in the seventh inning.

Boone led off Oklahoma’s final frame with a bloop single, and Coleman nearly cut the deficit to one, flying out to the warning track in left field.

Jennings nearly avoided bouncing into a double play, but Lee singled to bring Hansen up to the plate, where she delivered her monster three-run shot.

Brito and Cydney Sanders followed up the blast with walks, but Jocelyn Erickson was unable to cash in, sending the game to the bottom of the seventh tied 7-7.

Bahl entered the fray for Oklahoma, setting the Tigers down in order with help from Sanders, who recorded the third out of the seventh by tracking a popup into foul territory, and she fell into the Clemson dugout. Still, she held on and the game moved to the eighth inning.

“She was at another level,” Gasso said. “A whole other level. And we all knew it. And that was a good, good feeling.

“… It was two minutes on the clock (in-between innings) — they're counting it down. We usually go out at about a minute. Two minutes, she's standing on the mound. I'm like bring her back, no. Just let her stay. Let her do whatever she needs to do. She was locked in. I felt really, really confident when she came out.”

Jennings wasted no time in the ninth, turning Cagle’s first pitch into a souvenir.

“Leading off the inning, I wanted to get on the base somehow,” Jennings said. “Whether it’s a walk, or getting hit by pitch, anything. Saw a good pitch to hit and hit the ball hard and good things happened.

“That moment was just so awesome running home to my girls. Overall, what a game. No words.”

Bahl got the win in the circle, striking out three Tigers over the final three innings to close out the clincher.

Oklahoma will now meet Stanford in its first game of the 2023 WCWS on Thursday in a rematch.

The Sooners run-ruled the Cardinal 10-1 in six innings all the way back on Feb. 10 in the third game of the season.

Tackling the WCWS will come as the Sooners turn the page.

But for now, Gasso is just going to cherish this moment.

“This is one of the biggest memories I'll walk away with,” Gasso said. “Without question, we left Marita Hynes in good spirit, too.

“… I’m in the moment… When you all leave, I’ll probably lay out in the middle of the outfield and cry my eyes out.”