For three innings Wednesday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadiium in Oklahoma City, it looked like it was going to be a dream season come true for the Oklahoma Sooners, seeking their second national championship in seven trips to the Women's College World Series.
Following a nearly three-hour rain delay to start the game, OU junior and the team's best player, pitcher Keilani Ricketts, set down the first three Alabama hitters on strikeouts in the opening inning, and then led off the second with a long home run to right to stake the Sooners to a 1-0 lead. Ricketts picked off two more Crimson Tide batters on strikes in the home half of the second, and freshman first-baseman Lauren Chamberlain crushed a two-out, two-run home run to left field in the OU half of the third inning, widening the Sooners margin to 3-0.
Although they had the lead and were dominating early, the Sooners, in retrospect, should have been wary that the team that has scored first in the first two games of the championship series has not been able to finish it with a victory. As sharp as OU looked for the first three innings, no one would have suspected that it would fall apart so quickly and the way in which it did.
Ricketts, the National Player of the Year and winner of a record-tying 37 victories in the 2012 season, suddenly lost her control in the fourth inning. With the aid of four wild pitches, Alabama scored four times with two outs in the fourth to seize the lead and command of the game from the seemingly shell-shocked Sooners.
The SEC champions scored an insurance run in the fifth and took a 5-3 lead into the final inning. For the second night in a row, Oklahoma put a scare into the Crimson Tide in the final frame. Chamberlain hit her second home run of the game and 30th of the season, a tape-measure blast to right that left no doubt from the time it left the bat, to narrow the Bama lead to one run, at 5-4, but Ricketts was called out on strikes to end the game, ending OU's season and championship hopes.
After the game, amid a dejected and teary-eyed group of Sooner players, OU coach Patty Gasso had this to say: "It hurts. It hurts me. It hurts them. Because I just don't want to let go right now. They're playing good softball," She said.
"Winning championships is a game of inches one way or the other," Gasso said. "I thought (we) had a shot."
For Alabama, the win was especially sweet, capping a 60-8 season. The Crimson Tide are the first SEC team to win the Women's College World Series and a national championship in softball. Several SEC teams have made it to the final series over the years, but none of the teams made it past the final game.
It's small and somewhat irrelevant consolation after suffering a crushing defeat in a national championship game, but the future appears extremely bright for Gasso's charges in 2013 as OU graduates only one senior. The bulk of the team, including the Ricketts, Chamberlain and catcher Jessica Shults, the team's three best players in 2012, is back for another Big 12 and national title run next season.
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