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WCWS: Stanford phenom NiJaree Canady takes softball main stage

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – NiJaree Canady doesn’t like moral wins very much. Following No. 9 Stanford’s 2-0 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series, the freshman pitcher sat face-to-face in the postgame press conference, even though she was showered with praise by her coach, Jessica Allister, right after Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso and her players did the same.

Despite the loss, Canady, who was named National Rookie of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association on Tuesday, emerged as the star of this year’s WCWS.

She held the best offense in the nation — the Sooners are batting .372 as a team, lead the nation in home runs and averaging 8.39 points per game — just two runs, only one earned. She held OU without an extra hit for the first time in 105 games. She held the Sooners to their lowest number of runs scored in an NCAA tournament game since WCWS 2019, when Alabama beat them 1-0. She made a lasting impression on the most decorated coach in softball history.

“She became one of the toughest freshmen to throw and move the ball that I’ve ever seen,” Gasso said after the game.

A year ago, Canady was in Topeka, Kansas, going 21-0 to lead their high school to its second straight state championship, the only two in school history. She was the Kansas Softball Gatorade Player of the Year for the past two seasons, and was also a two-time all-state basketball player ranked as a four-star rookie before giving up her senior year to prepare. at University.

Canady entered the WCWS as the nation’s ERA leader, allowing just eight earned runs in 116 1/3 innings for an ERA of 0.48. On Thursday, in front of 12,379 fans, the third-largest crowd in WCWS history, she pitched five innings and seven strikeouts to become the fifth player in Stanford program history to record 200K in one. season, forcing an Oklahoma team to a 48-game winning streak, the longest in sports history, to scratch and claw and plead with the many Sooners fans in the crowd to come into the game.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but the atmosphere was amazing,” Canady said. “To be able to play in front of this audience was something incredible.”

For Canady, there was no party. Just a determined look and a wish to do it again on Friday in Stanford’s playoff game against Alabama No. 5 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), if necessary.

It’s been a rocky season for Canady, including being sidelined for four weeks earlier in the year with shoulder pain. But after helping Stanford reach Oklahoma City for the first time since 2004, Allister said Canady was the obvious choice to face the Sooners, despite the availability of senior All-American Alana Vawter.

“NiJa is spectacular against right-handed hitters,” Allister said. “[Oklahoma is] heavy right-hander, and they usually have seven right-handers in the lineup. I think going into the game, NiJa’s batting average against right-handers was .083, .063, something like that, so we’re going to give him that opportunity. I’m going to pick her against a straight formation all day.”

“She became one of the toughest freshmen throwing and moving the ball I’ve ever seen.”

Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso on Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady

OU center fielder Jayda Coleman had an idea of ​​what makes Canady so effective.

“I think she really wanted…she wanted to throw 75 [mph]”, Coleman said with a laugh. “She was really starting to move on. She was on strike.”

Speed ​​was a concern for Gasso.

“When I saw our game I was like, OK, oh no, let’s go,” Gasso said. “Let’s start the machine. Grease it up, make sure it works. They can throw just as hard.

Gasso said the Sooners should try to force Canady into a fight in hopes of wearing him down and using the elements of their home state to their advantage. Coleman and Tiare Jennings worked Canady on 10 and 11 pitches, respectively, in their first at bats. Eventually, the strategy worked.

“You may have seen us as if we were really in trouble, and sometimes we were just trying to figure that out,” Gasso said. “Lots of fouls, but we got her to throw over 60 pitches to like the third inning, and the goal was to keep fighting and get her to keep throwing, maybe tire her out. It’s hot there- down.”

Eventually, Canady hit 99 pitches, struggling to finish off Riley Boone and Coleman with two strikes in the fifth. Boone’s single on Canady’s 93rd pitch went two with two out, and three pitches later Coleman ripped an RBI single to the left that broke a scoreless tie.

Meanwhile, Canady counterpart Jordy Bahl, last year’s NFCA freshman, blanked the Cardinal, striking out 11.

“I thought we had our opportunities,” Allister said. “When I look at the stat sheet, [we had] seven left on base. I thought we had the right hitters at the right time and we weren’t necessarily getting away with it. I thought [Bahl] got tough in big situations, got huge strikeouts. I thought we had our chances.”

And Gasso expired after the machine survived everything Canady threw at it.

“It was probably one of the most stressful and difficult first games we had that I can remember in a long time,” she said.


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