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Three-time defending champ Oklahoma opens Women's College World Series with 9-1 win over Duke

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is off and running in its quest for an unprecedented fourth straight national championship.

Kinzie Hansen homered and knocked in three runs, and the Sooners defeated Duke 9-1 in six innings on Thursday in the Women's College World Series opener for both teams.

Hansen, Jayda Coleman and Alyssa Brito each had two hits for the second-seeded Sooners (55-6).

“What a great game for the Sooners,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “It’s really something important to try to get that first win. We really prepared for Duke because they’re a really good team. I have immense respect for them, their coaching staff, and what they’ve done to get here. They’ve always been on the cusp.”

Kierston Deal threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to get the win for Oklahoma.

Cassidy Curd, who got both wins against Missouri in super regionals, started and gave up one run on three hits in two innings. Jala Wright, a second-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American, allowed five runs on four hits in one inning and took the loss.

The 10th-seeded Blue Devils (52-8) made their first World Series appearance in school history under coach Marissa Young. Pitching — the Blue Devils' strength all season — prevented them from having the debut they wanted.

“I love our staff,” Young said. “Obviously, they’ve done a phenomenal job all year long. It’s tough to see them not get the job done today on this stage. ... They learn from it. They know what they’re capable of. When you leave balls over the plate to a team like Oklahoma, they’re going to make you pay.”

Oklahoma will play No. 6 seed UCLA on Saturday, with the winner reaching the semifinals. UCLA has the most World Series championships with 12 and Oklahoma is third with seven. UCLA beat Oklahoma in the championship series in 2019.

Duke will play No. 14 Alabama in an elimination game on Friday.

Duke led Thursday's game 1-0 when Hansen's two-run blast in the third put the Sooners ahead. Alynah Torres added a two-run shot later in the inning to make it 4-1.

Duke loaded the bases against Oklahoma starter Kelly Maxwell with two outs in the fourth, and Gasso replaced her with Deal. Coleman's diving catch in center field saved the Sooners from allowing any runs.

Gasso wonders how many runs Coleman has saved with spectacular catches.

“What she’s been doing — she loves these big moments,” Gasso said. “She’s her best in these situations, in this venue, in this World Series. It’s her favorite thing to do. We’re going to rally behind her and let her lead us.”

Young said Coleman's grab was critical.

“A few inches from that ball dropping in and scoring runs,” she said. “But that’s what great teams do. They show up and make the big plays. She’s done that time and time again for them. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce our way.”

Cydney Sanders' two-run blast in the fourth made it 6-1. Brito closed the scoring with a single that knocked in two runs in the sixth.

“Obviously a tough game,” Young said. “Not the outcome we were looking for. But I think there’s a lot of positive things we can pull from this.”

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports