The Norman Transcript

Sports

May 24, 2014

Sooners power past Lady Vols in super regional opener

NORMAN — Oklahoma and Tennessee played a memorable marathon game in the Women’s College World Series championship, going 11 innings before Lauren Chamberlain ended the game with a home run and a Sooners’ victory.

In the first game of the super regional Friday the teams found a way to play even longer, thanks to a two-hour, 37-minute rain delay. But the end result was the same, and OU walked away with an 8-1 victory in the first contest of the best-of-three series.

When OU and Tennessee met in the final game of the 2013 season, both sides were headlined by different players. For OU, it was USA Softball Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts, while Tennessee boasted Raven Chavanne, who was a top-three finalist for the same award. While both players graduated last season, there were still familiar faces, including Chamberlain and Tennessee ace Ellen Renfroe.

But it was a newcomer to the series who stole the show.

Oklahoma pitcher Kelsey Stevens was good but not great in last weekend’s regional, as she struggled at times against a hard-hitting Texas A&M team. Against the Volunteers on Friday, she was exceptional.

Nine of OU’s first 13 outs came on Stevens’ strikeouts, and the sophomore finished with 11 in the game, one off her career high. She rolled through the Tennessee lineup before the rain delay struck in the bottom of the third, and after working out of a jam in the fourth by allowing just one run after the Volunteers (45-11) put two runners on with one out, she rolled through the rest of the game.

“She was outstanding,” coach Patty Gasso said. “We’ve been waiting to see that loose competitive spirit back on the mound. She took last week and said ‘I’m better than this, my team is going to score runs and it’s going to be all right.’ She had good movement, a good mix.”

Even with Stevens dealing, it was a tight game until the sixth inning. The Sooners were fending off Tennessee’s opportunities and held on to a 4-1 lead through five innings after Brittany Williams sent a solo home run to center field, but they opened it up in the bottom of the sixth.

Erin Miller started the rally with a single, and an error on a Destinee Martinez grounder set the stage for an RBI double by Chamberlain. Shelby Pendley followed up with a two-run home run off the scoreboard in left field, and by the time Tennessee got out of the inning, the Sooners were on top by seven runs.

“We stayed pretty loose, stayed focused,” Chamberlain said of the rain delay. “We got some food and some energy and wanted to get back out there. But we were impatient and wanted to play. The hitting was contagious tonight top to bottom.”

There was good and bad news on the injury front for OU. Chamberlain, who is playing with a torn PCL in her knee, felt well enough to play first base for the first time since the injury. But Williams, who filled in at first while Chamberlain was out, went down diving for a fly ball in right field. She stayed on the ground for several minutes before walking off the field under her own power holding the arm stiffly against her chest. Gasso said after the game it was too early to tell the extent of the injury.

The Sooners (49-10) got a big assist from Tennessee’s mistakes. The Volunteers made four errors in the game, and five of the Sooners’ eight runs were unearned. The two teams will meet at 4 p.m. today for the second game of the series, with the if-necessary game scheduled following its conclusion.

“We shot ourselves in the foot, and that’s a shame because they’re very capable of shooting us in the foot,” Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly said. “We just didn’t get it done. A lot of credit goes to Stevens, and a lot of it goes to Patty Gasso and her staff. But we’re still in it until they win the second game.”

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