OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Stanford and UCLA players and coaches were emotional when it sunk in they had finished the last game between Pac-12 softball teams before the league splits up 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’s banner into the semifinals.

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

UCLA star Maya Brady said it was an honor to be a part of the final game, though the result was bittersweet.

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

Current members of the conference 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 runner-up in 2003 and 2004. Oregon has been a national power for the past decade, Stanford has qualified the past two years, Oregon State made it in 2022 and Utah qualified in 2023.

Those programs will spread out next year. UCLA, Washington and Oregon will join the Big Ten, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State will head to the Big 12 and Stanford and Cal will enter 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, remembers trying to compete with Pac-12 teams early in her coaching career and said getting beat by those teams helped her understand what greatness looked like.

“I hope that history doesn’t go away because that’s where this started,” she said. “It started on the West Coast, then it lended itself over to Texas A&M, Fresno State, different teams across the country. Then it came to Oklahoma, then to Michigan. You saw it starting to spread itself. It wouldn’t have happened without elite teams on the West Coast.”

Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, who won the national title in 2012, got upset just thinking about the league’s breakup.

“It is a sad day,” he said. “It really is. I think whoever made the decisions did not do them for the right reasons. There’s no way in hell that Cal and Stanford should be going to Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse. Are you kidding me? Those are two great academic institutions. Somebody made that decision?”

Allister said she’ll miss the Pac-12, but she’s looking forward to new challenges.

“The only thing certain in college athletics right now is things change,” she said. “You have to be comfortable in that change, find the good in that change. We’re excited to be members of the ACC, excited to build new rivalries, excited to compete against phenomenal academic institutions that have broad-based excellence in their sports programming.”

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

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


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