NORMAN — Keilani Ricketts didn’t waste any time as she began her final postseason at Marita Hynes Field. The senior opened with her signature fastball to Marist’s leadoff batter Maureen Duddy. It sailed past for strike one. So she repeated the pitch twice more.
It was a fitting start to Ricketts’ final NCAA tournament in the circle, and the Sooners’ eventual 17-0, five-inning victory was fitting for a team that has drawn praise as possibly one of the best ever assembled.
Not that Ricketts, who like all the Sooners, claims to not look far ahead, looked at it that way.
“I wasn’t thinking about all that,” she said. “I was just thinking about how excited we were to start this postseason journey. We’re excited because of how we finished last year, and it’s a hard journey to get to that game.”
“That game” is the NCAA championship where the Sooners fell to Alabama in last year’s title game. This time around, the Sooners gave Ricketts exactly the kind of start she was hoping for to change things.
OU (48-4) dominated from the start. After Ricketts retired Marist (30-25) in order to open the game, the Sooners immediately went to work at the plate. Lauren Chamberlain singled and Georgia Casey followed that up with a double. Shelby Pendley then walked and brought Ricketts to the plate, who helped her own cause by singling in three runs and igniting what would be an eight-run first inning.
Not that Ricketts would need much help in that cause. She went three innings, allowing just one hit while earning seven of her nine outs by way of the strikeout. After OU pushed the lead to 17-0 in the third inning, Michelle Gascoigne entered in relief of Ricketts and struck out another five batters to secure the six outs needed to complete the game.
The fast start was exactly what coach Patty Gasso had in mind. So much so, in fact, she almost sent Lauren Chamberlain into what would have been a certain out at home as the sophomore rounded third base in the first inning. Gasso waved her through before throwing up the stop sign at the last second. Chamberlain slipped on the grass near third and almost was caught in a rundown before sliding safely back to third base.
It was very similar to a play that ended Game 2 of the OU-Texas series in a loss last month when Gasso sent catcher Jessica Shults home from third, something that Gasso admitted went through her mind.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” Gasso said. “That was my excitement and wanting to score early and score fast. Maybe it was a little overly aggressive call by myself, but luckily it didn’t come back to hurt us.”
The near-miss actually worked in the Sooners’ favor as Chamberlain came home to score on Ricketts’ hit several batters later. She returned to the plate later in the inning and laced a line-drive, three-run home run over left field, part of a 3 for 4, five-RBI performance.
Next up for OU is a 1 p.m. game today against No. 24 Arkansas, with a trip to the regional final on Sunday on the line. And Gasso likes where her team is at after Friday’s big win.
“Tonight was important for us, but I know the other teams are there as well,” she said. “We wanted to send a message to them saying ‘stop this.’ These teams are not afraid of that, but we want to feel like we’re at another level.”
Gasso was then asked if Friday’s 17-run victory was a sign that the Sooners have reached that level.
“We’re getting there.”
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