By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma likes its chances at this weekend’s Tucson Super Regional, where the Sooners meet Arizona beginning 10:30 p.m. Friday.
Playing maybe the most storied program in the women’s college game on its home field — Rita Hillenbrand Stadium — is hardly a treat, but it shouldn’t be scary.
The Sooners have played the Wildcats twice this season and won twice. Even better, OU beat Arizona’s ace, Kenzi Fowler, on a day they did not throw their own ace, Keilani Ricketts (27-13, 1.46 earned run average).
OU and Arizona first met in 2011 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Feb. 12, the Sooners crushed the Wildcats 11-1 in five innings.
Dani Dobbs and Ricketts both hit home runs. In the circle, Ricketts allowed two hits and struck out 10. Discounting OU’s 10-hit attack is the fact the Sooners beat Shelby Babcock (17-8, 4.01 ERA), who they likely won’t face Friday or Saturday.
The Wildcat ace is Fowler (26-7, 1.65 ERA), who just allowed two runs in 19 innings at the Tucson Regional.
But OU has beaten her, too.
That came March 17 at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., where OU prevailed 5-3, just before both programs entered conference play.
OU got to Fowler for five runs, three earned, on eight hits. Michelle Gascoigne (9-3, 2.66 ERA) allowed six Wildcat hits and one earned run over six innings, before Ricketts closed.
“We have faced them before … It’s a different beast, though, going to their place,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “(But) our team seems to step up, especially against Pac-10 teams.”
What about now?
In the afterglow of claiming the Norman Regional, OU (41-17, 10-8 Big 12, 3-1 NCAA) liked where it stood.
“I think we need to take this momentum into Arizona and keeping our confidence up will really help,” OU second baseman Brianna Turang said. “I mean, we have (beaten Arizona) twice, so we know that we can do it.”
Leaving Norman, much of the talk has been about how the Sooner offense has come to life late in the season. But Arizona remains plenty dangerous. While OU outscored opponents 21-4 at the Norman Regional, Arizona (43-16, 11-10, 3-0) outscored opponents 28-2 at the Tucson Regional.
The Wildcat batting order, at least statistically, looks like a murderers’ row, sporting three players hitting at least .400 and three more with at least 15 home runs.
Karissa Buchanan and Brittany Lastrapes are both hitting .402 and Lauren Shultzler is hitting .400. Power has been provided by Stacie Chambers (.287, 20 HR, 71 RBIs), Bridgette Del Ponte (.341, 17, 59) and Lini Koria (.296, 15, 41).
Destinee Martinez, at .360, is the only Sooners hitting closer to .400 than .300 and OU’s biggest power hitter, Jessica Shults (.342, 19 HR, 58 RBIs) is very questionable after missing the Norman Regional with an undisclosed illness. The rest of OU’s power lies primarily with Brittany Williams (.319, 12, 39) and Ricketts (.293, 11, 42).
The Sooners believe they’re ready after running a Big 12 gauntlet and they should be. Of the 16 tems remaining in the NCAA softball bracket, five are from the Big 12: OU, Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
“I really think the Big 12 has prepared us for this postseason,” senior first baseman Chana’e Jones said. “We have faced Arizona’s pitchers before, but I think that our play against Big 12 teams will really help.”
The Pac-10, though, boasts six teams still standing: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, Cal and Washington.
Still, after all the analysis, somebody must rise to the occasion. Trying to return to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2004, it might be the Sooners.
“They really thrive in a big environment like this,” Gasso said of her players. “I know they’ll be ready.”
Clay Horning 366-3526 firstname.lastname@example.org