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Dominant Pac-12 softball is nearing its end as the conference realigns to spread programs

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Stanford and UCLA players and coaches were emotional as it dawned on them that they had finished the last game between Pac-12 softball teams before the league folded due to conference realignment.

Stanford defeated the Bruins 3-1 on Sunday night in a Women’s College World Series elimination game and will carry the conference banner into the semifinals.

“It’s sad,” Stanford coach Jessica Allister said. “It’s just sad because it’s been the biggest softball conference in the country. If you look at the history of the conference, even the present of the conference, it’s not even that close.”

UCLA star Maya Brady said it was an honor to be part of the final game, although the outcome was bittersweet.

“It’s super sad because in the Pac we are very proud of our conference, the conference of champions,” she said.

The conference’s current members have dominated the sport for most of its existence. UCLA has the most World Series championships with 12 and Arizona is second with eight. Arizona State won national titles in 2008 and 2011, Washington won in 2009 and has three runner-up finishes.

California was second in 2003 and 2004. Oregon has been a national power for the past decade, Stanford has qualified the past two years, Oregon State has made it in 2022 and Utah has qualified in 2023.

These programs will be distributed next year. UCLA, Washington and Oregon will join the Big Ten, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State will move to the Big 12 and Stanford and Cal will join the Atlantic Coast Conference. Oregon State will be an affiliate member of the West Coast Conference.

Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, who has won seven national titles and will go for an eighth this week, recalled trying to compete with Pac-12 teams early in her coaching career and said being drafted by those teams defeated helped her understand what greatness looked like.

“I hope history doesn’t disappear because that’s where it started,” she said. “It started on the West Coast and then lent itself to Texas A&M, Fresno State and various teams across the country. Then it came to Oklahoma and then to Michigan. You could see it starting to spread. It wouldn’t have happened without elite teams on the West Coast.”

Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, who won the national title in 2012, became upset at the thought of the league breaking up.

“It’s a sad day,” he said. “It’s real. I think whoever made the decisions didn’t make them for the right reasons. There’s no way Cal and Stanford are going to Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse. Are you kidding? Those are two great academic institutions. Did anyone make that decision?”

Allister said she will miss the Pac-12, but she is looking forward to new challenges.

“The only thing that is certain in college athletics right now is that things are changing,” she said. “You have to be comfortable with that change, find the good in that change. We are excited to be a member of the ACC, excited to build new rivalries, excited to compete against phenomenal academic institutions that have a broad base in their sports programs.”

Gasso said the conference will live on in the memories of those who witnessed it.

“I’m not even part of the Pac-12, but I am part of the love for this sport and its history,” she said. “That leaves a hole. But I’m going to try to continue educating our program about it.”

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

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