Patience and power turned a one-run game into the top-seeded Oklahoma softball team's 23rd run-rule win of the season as the Sooners opened play in the NCAA Super Regionals with a 10-2, six-inning win over 16th-seeded Texas A&M on Friday night in Norman.
With the victory, Oklahoma (51-4) is just one win away from advancing to the Women's College World Series for the third year in a row and eighth time in program history. Game two of the best-of-three series is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN. If necessary, a deciding third game would take place at 2 p.m., also on ESPN.
"I'm just extremely proud of our team," associate head coach Melyssa Lombardi said. "It was a total team effort, and I just felt all three aspects, offense, defense, and pitching, went really well. It was exciting to watch them play and get after it today."
The Sooners held just a 3-2 lead going to the bottom of the sixth, but a keen eye at the plate set the stage for a walk-off home run for the game's star.
Junior Brittany Williams led off the frame with a four-pitch walk from Aggies starter Mel Dumezich. With sophomore Jessica Vest on to run for Williams, junior Destinee Martinez laced a single into left field. Two batters later senior Brianna Turang reached on an infield single as shortstop Taran Tyler had no throw to make after fielding the grounder.
That brought sophomore Lauren Chamberlain to the plate, who coaxed a walk out of a full count to push the lead to 4-2. Fellow sophomore Georgia Casey followed and also drew a walk on a full-count pitch to plate Vest and make it 5-2 in favor of OU.
Dumezich's night was done after the walk to Casey as Lauren Ainsley came on in relief. Ainsley did not fare much better as she walked sophomore Shelby Pendley on four pitches and uncorked a wild pitch to allow Chamberlain to score.
With two runners on and one out, senior Keilani Ricketts stepped into the batters' box.
She had enjoyed a tremendous night in the circle as she had struck out 13 batters, including the first five of the game, to equal a school Super Regional record. She allowed just three hits and two runs with one walk, mixing speeds and freezing batters with a knee-buckling changeup.
"I think we were just trying to set the tone early because we know that A&M has had great hitters all year long," Ricketts said. "I wanted to get ahead in the count because they were patient early in the game, and I think that helped by setting the tone in the first two innings."
Ricketts punctuated her 30th win of the season with a walk-off home run to left field on a 3-2 pitch. It was the 13th of the year for Ricketts and 48th of her career, tying her sister Samantha for the fourth most in program history.
"Keilani [Ricketts] has a lot of experience on this team, and there's not a whole lot we need to tell her," Lombardi said. "We just have to get out of the way and let her do her thing. She had already had a couple of at-bats and got a base hit earlier in the game.
"I think she was doing the same thing everyone else was, it was just trusting and sticking to the game plan."
Oklahoma opened the scoring in the first inning.
Chamberlain stood on second base with two outs after walking to lead off the game and moving to second on a wild pitch. Ricketts then helped her own cause by pulling a single through the right side to drive home Chamberlain, who slid in just ahead of the tag.
The Sooners added to their lead with two more runs in the second.
Williams led off the inning by being hit by a pitch. Two ground outs moved Williams to third before senior Brianna Turang dropped a double down the left field line behind third base to make it 2-0, one of three hits she collected in the game. Chamberlain followed Turang with a double of her own. Chamberlain was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple, but Turang was able to cross the plate before the final out of the inning.
"I was just trying to focus on finding my pitch and hitting the ball where I need it to go," Turang said. "I think having to be in front of Lauren [Chamberlain] during a few innings is competition for me because my goal is to get on base for her or get the bat in her hands and so I think that's something I focus on the most and just trying to do anything to get on base because that's my job."
Texas A&M chipped away at the Sooners' lead with solo home runs in the third and fourth inning by Meagan May and Cali Lanphear, respectively.