After playing from behind throughout last weekend's regional, the Oklahoma Sooners decided it was easier to play from ahead on Friday night against Tennessee.
Oklahoma jumped out to an early lead, then blew the game open in the bottom of the sixth inning for an 8-1 victory over the Volunteers in Game 1 of the Super Regionals.
The Sooners now sit just one win away from advancing to the Women's College World Series for the fourth straight season and earning the chance to defend last season's national championship.
The game was delayed for two hours and 37 minutes thanks to lightning and then a downpour that drenched Norman and the surrounding areas. The Sooners held a 2-0 lead with two on and two out in the bottom of the third inning when lightning sent players and fans looking for cover.
After the delay, things went right back to the way they were before the rains came, as OU starting pitcher Kelsey Stevens kept the Tennessee bats silent and worked around the Vols only major threat of the night.
In the top of the fourth, Tennessee knocked three straight hits to cut the deficit to a single run. The final hit came from Lexi Overstreet and hit the top of the wall in right field, merely an inch or two from leaving the park for a three-run home run.
Stevens buckled down and struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam, two of her 11 strikeouts for the game. A week after struggling with command and allowing several home runs, Stevens was in complete control from the opening pitch, mixing the rise ball in with her other pitches and keeping the Tennessee batters off-balance all night. Stevens gave up just six hits and didn't walk a single batter.
With Stevens dominating, it was only a matter of time before the OU bats came through against Tennessee starter Ellen Renfroe. The Sooners responded to Tennessee's run in the fourth with a run of their own, and Brittany Williams hit a solo home run to center in the fifth to extend the lead to 4-1 in favor of the Sooners.
Finally in the sixth, the Sooners opened the game wide open, thanks in no small part to several errors by the Vols. Oklahoma scored four runs in the frame, highlighted by Shelby Pendley's two-run homer, and had the bases loaded with one out. The Sooners were poised for the run-rule victory, but Callie Parsons struck out and Javen Henson popped out to first to fittingly put the ball back in Stevens' hands to close out the victory.
The win may have come at a cost for the Sooners. Already plagued by injuries this year—and with Lauren Chamberlain currently hobbled with a partially torn PCL—the Sooners may have suffered another blow when Williams flew awkwardly on her shoulder attempting a diving catch in the top of the seventh inning. Williams left the game holding her left arm gingerly and didn't return. OU coach Patty Gasso said after the game she didn't know the extent of Williams' injury.
These two teams played a game for the ages in the championship series a year ago, but the Sooners were perfectly fine taking a win on Friday devoid of the same thrilling nature.