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WCWS: Stanford Phenom NiJaree Canady Takes the Big Stage

collegeathletes collegesoftball ncaa ncaasoftball pressureofcollege wcws wcws2023 Jun 06, 2023

Oklahoma's WCWS semifinal tilt with Stanford was thrilling all the way to the end. Watch the extended highlights from the Sooners' exciting extra-inning win at the 2023 WCWS here.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—NiJaree Canady doesn't find satisfaction in moral victories. Following a 2-0 defeat of No. 9 Stanford by No. 1 Oklahoma at the Women's College World Series, the freshman pitcher maintained a stoic demeanor during the postgame press conference. Despite receiving accolades from her coach, Jessica Allister, and the opposing team's coach, Patty Gasso, Canady remained focused.

Despite the loss, Canady, who was recently honored as the National Freshman of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches' Association, emerged as the standout player of this year's WCWS. She effectively neutralized Oklahoma's potent offense, which boasts a team batting average of .372, leads the nation in home runs, and averages 8.39 runs per game. Canady limited them to only two runs, with just one earned, and prevented them from securing extra-base hits for the first time in 105 games. It was also the fewest runs the Sooners scored in an NCAA tournament game since the 2019 WCWS when they lost 1-0 to Alabama. Her performance left a lasting impression on softball's most decorated coach, Patty Gasso, who praised her as one of the hardest-throwing and ball-moving freshmen she has ever seen.

Canady's journey to the WCWS began a year ago in Topeka, Kansas, where she led her high school to its second consecutive state championship with an impressive 21-0 record. She was named the Kansas Softball Gatorade Player of the Year for two straight seasons and excelled as a two-time all-state basketball player. Canady, a four-star forward recruit, decided to forgo her senior year to prepare for college.

Entering the WCWS, Canady held the country's lowest ERA, allowing only eight earned runs in 116 1/3 innings, resulting in an ERA of 0.48. In front of a crowd of 12,379 spectators, the third-largest in WCWS history, she pitched five innings and recorded seven strikeouts. This achievement made her the fifth player in Stanford's program history to reach 200 strikeouts in a single season. Canady's performance forced the Oklahoma team, which was on a 48-game winning streak, the longest in the sport's history, to rally and implore their numerous fans in the crowd to engage in the game.

Canady expressed her awe at the incredible atmosphere but refrained from celebrating. Instead, she maintained her determined focus and vowed to replicate her performance in Stanford's elimination game against No. 5 Alabama if necessary.

It has been a whirlwind season for Canady, including a four-week setback due to shoulder soreness earlier in the year. However, after helping Stanford secure their first WCWS appearance since 2004, coach Jessica Allister had no doubt that Canady was the right choice to face the Sooners, despite having senior Alana Vawter, an All-American, available as well. Canady's effectiveness against right-handed hitters and her impressive track record against them made her an obvious selection against a predominantly righty-heavy Oklahoma lineup.

OU center fielder Jayda Coleman offered insight into Canady's effectiveness, suggesting that her desire to consistently throw at high speeds and her ability to start ahead in the count contributed to her success.

Coach Gasso expressed concern about Canady's velocity and strategized to force her into battles, hoping to tire her out and utilize the home-state advantage. Coleman and Tiare Jennings worked Canady for extended at-bats, forcing her to throw 10 and 11 pitches in their initial encounters. Ultimately, this strategy paid off when Riley Boone secured a single on Canady's 93rd pitch

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