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Fun-loving Oregon State hopes to keep the good times going Thursday at Women’s College World Series

OKLAHOMA CITY—Too young to know any better?

That could be said about Oregon State and its surprising appearance in the 2022 Women’s College World Series. The freshman-laden Beavers, with 14 of 22 players in their first year with OSU, opened the eight-team tournament at 4 pm Thursday against Florida at OGE Energy Field.

Maybe the moment gets too big for Oregon State (39-20) this week in Oklahoma City. Oddsmakers have OSU at 20-1 to win the tournament, co-longest in the field with Arizona. So far, the Beavers have shrugged off every situation that should easily derail a team with 12 freshmen.

To reach the WCWS, Oregon State merely had to:

Overcome a 10-game losing streak late in the season, forcing a must-win series over Utah to reach postseason play.

Win three elimination games at the Knoxville Regional, including two on a Sunday against host team Tennessee.

Beat Stanford on its home field in the super regional to earn the school’s second WCWS participation in OSU history.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” first baseman Frankie Hammoude said. “I almost feel like I’m just here spectating. It has not hit me that I get to play in OKC with my team and have all these cool memories to share down the road.”

Oregon State coach Laura Berg laughed when asked if her team is too young to know that a decided underdog like the Beavers probably shouldn’t be at the WCWS. And yet, here they are, for the first time since 2006.

Not overthinking things had a lot to do with Oregon State’s success in recent weeks.

“It’s just a game. You play catch, you see ball, hit ball, you run 60 feet and turn left,” Berg said. “That’s kind of what our philosophy has been, going from regionals to super regionals to now.”

For those who have been around this softball team, they know it’s that simple. Fun has been at the center of this team from the time it first assembled for drills last fall. Many of the freshmen brought a light-hearted approach to the game, and the returning players bought in.

“We definitely clicked like we’ve been playing together for a while. It doesn’t feel like this is our first year,” sophomore outfielder Jade Soto said.

It reached an apex during super regionals at Stanford, when ESPN cameras caught Oregon State players dancing at full throttle in the dugout. Never mind OSU had only a 2-0 lead in the latter stages of the game. Win or lose, the Beavers were going to have fun.

Soto and outfielders Erin Mendoza and Kristalyn Romulo head up the dance moves, whether it’s the Wu-Tang or choppin’ wood. Some of the moves come from Zumba workouts in which Soto and other players take part.

“It’s not like we plan anything out. It’s just kind of the first thing the pops in our head. Let’s do this. This is cool,” Soto said.

Freshman pitcher Sarah Haendiges said she’s inspired watching her teammates in the dugout.

“Whenever I’m pitching, it’s great to look and see that and know that even if they’re not on the field, they’re putting so much into it in the dugout,” Haendiges said.

Soto is convinced carefree spirit is what drove Oregon State through the 10-game losing streak and into the postseason and a historic run to the WCWS.

“One hundred percent. Us playing loose has shown in our performance,” she said.

Berg has never asked the Beavers to dial it back.

“I don’t think she minds as long as we’re being energized and having fun,” Soto said. “We’re not playing with a lot of pressure on us, and I think that’s our advantage right now.”

Playing loose only takes a team so far, though. Oregon State landed in postseason play for the first time since 2018 because it has the talent to match the fun. Pitcher Mariah Mazon has been a tour de force this season, and particularly in the playoffs. Mazon is OSU’s go-to pitcher who, against Stanford, became the school’s all-time strikeout leader. Mazon is also a prolific hitter, as she leads the Beavers with 40 RBI.

“It’s a very rare accomplishment to be a No. 3 with (12) home runs and being clutch, and then coming into the circle and do the same thing,” Florida coach Tim Walton said of Mazon.

“She touches every spot in the zone. She doesn’t just live on one pitch. She features a directory that’s pretty good.”

While this is Oregon State’s first WCWS experience for the players, Berg is a name brand in Oklahoma City. She took part in three Women’s College World Series as a player at Fresno State, including a championship team in 1998. When the Beavers toured the National Softball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, the players were amazed to see more than 100 photos of their coach in stock.

Some 24 years later, Berg said this is better than that.

“This probably ranks at the top … to be able to get a group of incredible young women from 18 to 22 on the same page, in the same boat, rowing in the same direction,” Berg said.

— Nick Daschel | ndaschel@oregonian.com | @nickdaschel

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