June 3, 2013

OU finals return epitomizes Sooner State journey

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


Many of those affected by tornados in the past two weeks might struggle to find a silver lining in the clouds that were so ominous.

The Sooner softball team is no stranger to this feeling. Not only did the storms affect their home, but they also suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Alabama in the College World Series final this time last year.

After a 6-2 win over Washington Sunday night, they are back and, perhaps, even more determined now to build a legacy bigger than the one that was left in ruins one year ago.

"This is a very focussed and determined team that had one goal, and that is to get back and have a chance to win a national championship," head coach Patty Gasso said after Oklahoma beat Washington 6-2 Sunday night. "It is difficult to do and it has been difficult this entire year, but the pride I have in this team is about their perseverance and the fact that they are not shaken by anything."

Sooner fans had many reasons to feel proud of their softball team over the weekend. Not only did they run-rule rivals Texas 10-2 Saturday afternoon, but their win over Washington was, to say the least, comprehensive. The biggest example of this can be found in starting pitcher Keilani Ricketts, who recorded 12 strikeouts and let up only three hits, went 2-3 on the night batting, scored two runs and sent her 14th home run of the season flying into deep center in the third inning to put Oklahoma up 3-0.  

"I'm just looking at her line score, and it's very good; vey balanced," Gasso said of her star pitcher. "She gave up two walks, which is fine with us with the twelve strike outs and three hits against a very potent team. It was a complete game tonight."

At 1-3 and two runs on the board, it was another great night for speedy left-fielder Brianna Turang, whose triple in the third inning sparked a Sooner rally. That preceded Lauren Chamberlain's 29th home run of the season.

"Right now, we're a team that's peaking," Gasso said. "We're playing very good softball all the way through the lineup. Everyone is contributing, even those coming off the bench to run for us. Everyone is locked into this."

But not so locked in that they forget to enjoy the little things, Chamberlain said, which appear to have been lost in the shuffle before the fall to Alabama in 2012.

"Like I said earlier, we're just soaking up the sounds, enjoying the crowd and enjoying these moments," she said, "because sometimes you get caught up in the game and forget to enjoy those things."

Now, the Sooners must come face-to-face with Tennessee, which similarly has a strong batting line-up and top-class pitching with Ivy and Ellen Renfroe splitting time on the mound. 

But at this point, few would look past OU for a title, given their play lately. After the win over Texas, Gasso said she did not think there was a single team in the field that could easily beat her Sooners twice, which the Lady Vols will have to do in oder to take the trophy. In short, Oklahoma fears no one, nor anything.

"I don't think there's anyone we're afraid to play," Gasso said. "We truly respect Tennessee and their abilities. Quite honestly, we haven't watched them very closely because we've been concentrating on our next opponents. We'll have plenty of time to get all of our scouting reports together and the team will look at video, have a game plan and be ready to go."

OU played Tennessee first on Monday at 7 p.m. and will play them again Tuesday in the best-of-three series. A third game will be scheduled if necessary.