Shults homers twice as Sooners capture Norman Regional

Shults homers twice as Sooners capture Norman Regional

NORMAN, Okla – Last year the OU softball team was where it wanted to be--competing in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. OU catcher Jessica Shults unfortunately wasn’t, however, where she wanted to be. She missed the last six games of the 2011 season with pan-ulcerative colitis and watched as the Sooners went winless in the WCWS.

In 2012, however, things are different. OU is en route to where it wants to go--a return to the College World Series and Shults, now healthy, is playing a major role as the Sooners seek another national title after winning in 2000.

Just how important is Shults to the OU team was evident this weekend as OU throttled three opponents in winning the Norman NCAA Regional for the seventh time in nine years and increasing their regional record to 26-5. Schults was six-for-nine during the weekend, driving in seven runs, including five in Sunday’s 6-0 shutout of Oregon State, which concluded its season 36-23.

After losing its opener to Tulsa in extra innings on Friday, 9-7, the Beavers eliminated Lehigh and Tulsa to advance to the championship game, needing to beat OU twice for the title. But although the game was delayed 2 ½ hours and started at 3:30 instead of 1 p.m. because of rain, the Beavers were limited to only two singles by Sooner left-hander Keilani Ricketts. The hard-throwing Ricketts needed only 89 pitches to dispose of the Beavers and, for the 21st time this season, fanned 10 or more batters in extending her season record to 31-7. She walked only one. Oregon State only got a runner to second twice against Ricketts who allowed a bunt single by Erin Guzy in the first inning and an infield single by Beaver lead-off hitter Dani Gilmore in the sixth inning.

In addition to her outstanding mound performance, Ricketts (31-7) showed her fielding prowess by recording five assists and one putout; plus she had a single in three at-bats and scored one run. "I thought she was really on her mark," said OU Coach Patty Gasso. "I really loved what she did. She was ahead of hitters, kept them guessing. You could see them uncertain of what's coming and kept them very off-balance."

The run Ricketts scored came in the first inning and came on Shults’ one-out grand slam to right field off losing pitcher Marina Demore, (8-7), who hurled 4.1 innings, allowing six hits and six runs while striking out two and walking five.

The grand slam was Jessica’s 17th homer of the season and the four RBI’s increased her total to 54. “The ball was up and in,” said Shultz who is glad to be back on the field. “It’s an honor to be back on the field. I took it for granted last year as I had to watch from the hospital. It’s nice to be back with my team and be part of this and healthy. It’s been a great experience so far.”

But Jessica wasn’t finished, however, and smashed a one-out solo homer--her 18th-- into the right field bleachers in the fifth inning to increase the OU lead to 5-0. Erica Sampson followed the Shults homer and later scored in the inning on Katie Norris’ RBI single. After the hit by Norris, OSU replaced Demore with right-hander Tina Andreana, who finished the game going 2.2 inning allowing two hits and no runs while striking out two and walking one. Shultz also walked twice in a perfect performance as OU collected eight hits off the two Beaver pitchers with Sooner left fielder Brianna Turang also having a perfect afternoon (3-for-3).

With the Regional title, the Sooners now will host the NCAA Super Regional next weekend at the OU Complex against Arizona, (38-17). The Wildcats won the Tempe Regional going undefeated and defeated Notre Dame, 8-3, in the championship game behind pitcher Shelby Babcock (20-9).  The Wildcats pounded out 14 hits in extending their regional record to 78-6.

"I feel very proud of this group and their perseverance through this weekend. It's not always easy working through rain delays and things like that," said Gasso. " It's a little unnerving, but it's just the way it is. But I know this team is starting to really hit their peak, which is exactly where you want to be right now. I know we are extremely anxious to be hosting Arizona here on our field."

And the Sooners know the Wildcats will have revenge on their minds because OU swept the Wildcats last year to prevent them from getting a World Series berth. “We know there will be revenge,” said Ricketts. “It will be a tough challenge, but we need to keep with our game plan.”