Behind The ScenesSoftball

“No one wanted a break”: Inside ESPN’s production of 17-inning WCWS Finals opener

ESPN’s WCWS production team poses on OGE Energy Field at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
(Photo courtesy of ESPN Production)

First, the plane that was providing aerial shots of the stadium had to land in the top of the 13th inning because it was running out of gas. Then, the battery for the umpire camera burned out in the 14th inning.

“At that point, our entire crew was getting a little delirious,” jokes coordinating producer Meg Aronowitz.

The Oklahoma-Florida marathon Women’s College World Series Finals game continued until the 17th inning, making Game 1 in the best-of-three series the longest WCWS Finals game ever (52 games, dating back to 1982). A three-run home run by the Sooners’ Shay Knighten gave the defending champions the lead and the eventual 7-5 win in Oklahoma City.

The game ended at 12:35 a.m. ET, 5 hours and 28 minutes after it began and nearly 12 hours after ESPN’s 120-person crew arrived at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. (espnW has a great look at the numbers behind this historic game.)

The announcing team of Beth Mowins, Michele Smith, Jessica Mendoza – who in her primary role as Sunday Night Baseball analyst called an epic 18-inning Yankees-Cubs game May 7-8 – and dugout reporter Holly Rowe framed the drama.

“The high-level competition on the field is the main story,” explained Aronowitz. “But I am so proud of our entire crew – every single person in every single role. As the innings continued, the hours rolled on and the drama heightened. No one wanted a break – not even for a single pitch.

As professionals, they were dedicated to their job. As fans, they were captivated in the drama.”

Aronowitz, the veteran producer who has been an integral player in ESPN’s softball coverage since 2005, knew that as the game continued viewers around the country were taking notice of what was happening, especially with a national championship at stake.

“Following the social media chatter and knowing how fans think, I figured viewers were finding the game one way or another,” said Aronowitz. “I kept reminding our commentators, as well as the producer Joe Taylor and director Anthony DeMarco, ‘We continue to have a new audience tuning in.’

As such, the crew detailed the historical significance of the game, both in length and how it was stacking up against other epic WCWS Finals.

Off camera, the production crew and commentators shared some light-hearted moments and bonded with each other as the game went late into the night … moments that will surely turn to lasting memories.

“Not sure how much detail I can go into there,” joked Aronowitz. “But there was some classic lines said.”

In the bottom of the 17th inning, after Florida scored a run and had the tying run on first base, Oklahoma pitcher Paige Lowary recorded a strikeout for the final out. Immediately, the ESPN crew signed off, tossing to the Washington Nationals-Los Angeles Dodgers MLB game that was in the bottom of the eighth inning. That game began at 10 p.m. ET.

Back in Oklahoma City, the focus quickly turned to tonight’s Game 2 (8 p.m., ESPN).

“The storyline of this Finals has now changed,” said Aronowitz. “Our crew immediately began to work on the opening for tonight’s telecast. We had one idea in mind for the open, but that is out the window – time to start from scratch.”

Tonight, Florida and Oklahoma will do the same. Either a national champion will be crowned or the Gators will force a decisive Game 3 on Wednesday. The only question is: How many innings will it take?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Afterward, the ESPN production crew fueled up for Game 2, as Rowe’s Facebook video below reveals.

That feeling of what happens next after a 17 inning epic ball game!!!! #wcws #weareateam #lovemygirls❤️

Posted by Holly Rowe on Monday, June 5, 2017

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