John Klein: Ricketts, Sooners get one more chance
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
6/06/12 at 3:46 AM
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Related Story: Alabama rolls OU, forces third game at Women's College World Series
Original Print Headline: Ricketts, Sooners get one more chance
OKLAHOMA CITY - In a sport dominated by overpowering pitchers, and home run hitters, Oklahoma has the best.
Occasionally, the best don't play like the best.
So it was for Keilani Ricketts on Tuesday night.
Ricketts, the most dominant player in college softball all season, simply did not have it in the second game of a three-game series for the NCAA softball national title.
Alabama hit two bases-loaded and bases-clearing doubles, erecting an 8-1 lead early in the game, and then held off OU at the end of an 8-6 victory at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
"The message we sent with those five runs in the seventh inning is that we will be back," said OU coach Patty Gasso. "We will compete our rear ends off for the national championship.
"An 8-1 game is not over for us."
The Sooners had a chance to close out the series after beating Alabama on Monday.
"I think the message we sent in this game is that we aren't going down without a fight," said Alabama's Jennifer Fenton.
College softball is usually decided by the best pitcher. Runs are at a premium. So, pitchers like Ricketts, who can throw every game, can become one-woman shows all the way to the trophy.
But, after dominating throughout the tournament, Ricketts did not have it against the Tide.
She was knocked out of the game with one out in the fourth and trailing 5-1.
It was not the kind of performance we've come to expect from Ricketts.
"I could tell Keilani was laboring a little bit," said Gasso. "I felt we could get her out and get her some rest before Wednesday's game."
As a result, Oklahoma will have to play a third and deciding game against the Tide on Wednesday night. Winner-take-all.
OU is trying to win its second national softball title. The Sooners also won in 2000.
Gasso has led the Sooners to seven appearances now in the Women's College World Series.
However, never had the Sooners been this dominating through the NCAA Tournament before the loss to Bama.
Oklahoma, winner of 12 straight games, had not lost a game in the NCAA Tournament until Alabama.
"Alabama really put up a fight," said Gasso. "They were attacking.
"But, it was an uncharacteristic game for us. We need to make Alabama work harder to score runs."
OU outscored its NCAA opponents 62-10 heading into Tuesday night.
It had been an incredible run to the championship series, and to within one victory of the title, because OU has the most incredible player in softball right now.
She just didn't play like it in the loss to the Tide.
Ricketts has been overpowering batters all season. Her ERA was 0.99 coming into the second finals game (second in the nation).
She is also OU's leading hitter at .395.
In a sport where one player can dominate, Ricketts is the player everyone would want.
Still, everyone has an off night, and Ricketts had one.
She'll get another chance on Wednesday in the deciding game.
"I think (the seventh inning rally) gave us some momentum," said Gasso. "I think it shows our heart."
The Sooners hope to give Ricketts a little better support.
Ricketts wasn't sharp, hitting five batters during her brief work.
However, the Sooners weren't good behind her, either.
OU committed three errors in the first four innings as Bama erected the seven-run lead.
The two errors in the second inning were especially devastating. It allowed Bama to rally out of a 1-0 deficit and take a 4-1 lead.
The four runs in the fourth were just sloppy pitching, including a hit batter and two walks.
"That's two hits in two innings for six runs," said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy. "We left a lot of runners out there on Monday.
"Then, in this game, we get six runs on two hits. Softball is a funny game sometimes."
Once the Tide got the big lead, it cruised until the seventh. The Sooners rallied to get within 8-6 with a five-run inning. The big blow was Jessica Shults' three-run homer.
However, the Sooners never got the tying run to the plate and the Tide pushed the championship series to one final game.
Bama, No. 3 in the final poll one spot ahead of OU, has won 12 of its last 13.
OU has also won 12 of its last 13.
Just one victory separates someone from an NCAA championship trophy.
Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts pitches against Alabama in the third inning of the second game of the NCAA Women's College World Series softball finals in Oklahoma City, Tuesday. SUE OGROCKI / AP Photo