Oklahoma Defeats Arizona to Earn Return Trip to WCWS
NORMAN, OKLA – University of Oklahoma head softball coach Patty Gasso had a couple of reasons to celebrate Saturday, May 26th. Not only was it her 50th birthday but her Sooner softball team presented her the perfect gift---a return to the Women’s College World Series next week in Oklahoma City.
As Gasso walked to the pre-game conference at home plate, she heard “Happy Birthday, Patty” from the OU fans and then watched as her Sooners throttled the Arizona Wildcats 7-1 before a crowd of 1,469 to capture the Super Regional for the second year in a row to earn the school’s seventh trip to the WCWS. Last year, OU swept the Wildcats in Tempe 5-2 and 6-0 to prevent the Wildcats from competing in the WCWS.
It was OU’s 50th win of the season against eight losses and their eighth win in a row and Gasso was more than pleased with her team’s performance, limiting the Wildcats to one run and three singles behind the spectacular pitching of lefty Keilani Ricketts.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team to have come so far and work so hard to get here and knowing that we’re playing our best softball right now,” said Gasso. “To know what’s ahead of us and know that we’re playing our best right now is really, really exciting. You didn’t see a lot of dog piling out there and I think it’s because this team knows that there is going to be one dog pile that they’re going to save it for and that’s in Oklahoma City. It’s almost the expectation, hey let’s get this done and move forward. They came out ready to play from the start, loose and comfortable, on fire.”
There wasn’t any doubt about that as OU opened the game by scoring five runs on two hits in the first inning before adding single tallies in the fifth and sixth innings against AU pitchers Kenzie Fowler and Shelby Babcock. Fowler went the first five and one-third innings, allowing nine hits and seven runs while striking out only two and walking five. Babcock replaced her after walking Ricketts and giving up a solo homer to left field by OU first baseman Laura Chamberlain in the sixth inning. It was Chamberlain’s 27th homer of the season and her 71st RBI, which lead the Sooners. Babcock hurled one and two-thirds innings, allowing one hit while striking out one and walking none as the Wildcats finished the season 39-20 and were seeking their 23rd WCWS trip in the last 25 years.
Arizona scored its lone run against Ricketts in the sixth inning on a two-out error by the OU third baseman Javen Henson, bringing across Karissa Buchanan who had singled and advanced to second before Ricketts fanned Hallie Wilson for her 13th strikeout. Henson went down to field Lini Koria’s grounder but the ball went through her legs before Shelby Pendley was hit by a pitch and Kristen Arriola grounded out to end the inning against Ricketts.
In winning her fifth straight game in NCAA Regional and Super Regional play, Ricketts was spectacular and handcuffed the Wildcats, especially when AU got runners on. AU left six runners on base. AU went down in order in the first, but got two runners aboard in the second inning before Ricketts reeled off nine consecutive strikeouts in a row before Arriola grounded out in the top of the fifth inning. It was Ricketts’ 32nd win of the season against seven losses and the 22nd time this season she has had 10 or more strikeouts in a game.
Her battery mate, Jessica Shults, who accounted for OU’s sixth run on a solo homer over the left field fence leading off the fifth—her 19th of the season—said this about Keilani’s performance, “I think it was her mentality from the beginning of the game. She went out there and knew what she wanted to do. She was out there and didn’t want to get denies. I think the team really felt that and wanted to score runs for her because you could tell that she was in a different place today and wanted to shut people down. We just wanted to back her up. It was lights out today.”
AU had hoped to neutralize Chamberlain, Ricketts and Shultz, the three, four and five hitters in the OU lineup, or at least prevent them from bringing runners home, but it didn’t work as the three combined for five hits in nine at-bats and drove in four of the seven OU runs. Ricketts (2-3) had a single to bring in the first OU run in the first inning with Shultz (2-3) walking with the bases loaded right behind her to force in another run besides her solo homer.
AU fell behind and has had a season in which it has had to come-from-behind in numerous games. “There are a lot of times in the year when you get behind, but when you’ve got (Keilani) Ricketts on the mound you can’t afford to do that,” said AU Head Coach Mike Candrea. “I think before we even got to the plate today it was a pretty huge undertaking to try to score five or more runs against her.”
AU, which lost its regular first baseman Jessica Spingner to a back problem, even changed up its lineup on Saturday, with Candrea moving Wilson from center field to first base, Buchanan from left field to center field, Nicole Bryan from DP to right field, Chelsea Suitos from right field to left field, Chelsea Goodacre from catcher to DP and Koria from first base to catcher. The lineup produced only three singles, in the second inning by Koria, and in the seventh inning by Buchanan and Bryan.
In the post-game press conference, Candrea praised the OU team. “I would like to congratulate Oklahoma for a fine performance. I think they have got a very solid team that can make a deep run into postseason. Unfortunately, this is a tough time of the year for anyone to finish on a bad note, but there are a lot of things I am proud of with this team. I think the last two weeks they have battled through a lot and have started playing softball the way we expected them to play maybe a couple of months ago. We got beat and there’s not much to say. Thirteen strikeouts today by (Keilani) Ricketts and they did what they needed to do offensively and on the mound. Sometimes in this game you have to tip your hat and admit that you got beat and move forward.”
OU was happy last year just to get the World Series. This year they won’t be happy until they win it all and give Gasso that dog pile she talked about earlier.