After her ace Keilani Ricketts threw 188 pitches in a 12-inning marathon win Monday night, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso made the calculated decision to start No. 2 pitcher Michelle Gascoigne Tuesday night against Tennessee in a game that could clinch a national championship for the Sooners.
The decision paid off as both players turned in championship-worthy performances to finish a dream season for the Sooners and give Oklahoma its second national championship with a 4-0 win over the Volunteers.
Ricketts drove in all four Oklahoma runs and then watched from the dugout while Gascoigne pitched a three-hit shutout to keep the Tennessee bats at bay throughout the night.
Gascoigne, who led the nation in ERA this season with a miniscule 0.92 average, was fantastic in the circle, striking out 12 batters and not allowing a single walk. After giving up a single in the first and second innings, Gascoigne retired 15 of the next 16 batters she faced—a single from Melissa Davin in the fifth inning the only blip on an otherwise perfect five innings.
Ricketts—who was named the WCWS Most Outstanding Player—hasn't won back-to-back National Player of the Year awards for her pitching alone—although her dominance in the circle would be more than enough reason to give her the award. Her hitting has taken off the past two years as well, effectively making her the most dangerous player in college softball.
Tuesday night, with Gascoigne in the circle, Ricketts had to make a difference at the plate, something she accomplished in the top of the third inning by blasting a three-run home run to right field to stake the Sooners to a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough support for Gascoigne, who struck out the side in the bottom of the third and cruised from there. Gascoigne had all of her pitches working, painting the outside corners, and dealing a brutal changeup that baffled Tennessee hitters as it curled across the plate at about 45 miles per hour.
With a national championship almost in hand, Ricketts came through again in the seventh, grounding out to the right side of the infield to allow Lauren Chamberlain to score from third base to push the lead to 4-0.
The Sooners dedicated their postseason run to the many victims of the tornadoes that ripped across Oklahoma over the past two weeks. After the game, they let the fans enjoy the moment with them, taking a victory lap around ASA Hall of Fame Stadium to share the championship trophy with the 8,527 predominantly crimson-clad fans. After a few weeks of nothing but pain and tragedy, the Sooners provided the state with a much-needed reason to celebrate.
While the Sooners were playing for the people of Oklahoma, they did plenty for themselves in the process, rewriting plenty of records and putting them in the conversation for greatest team ever to take the field.
This was the goal the Sooners chased all season long, and by accomplishing that goal, they erased the pain of coming up short a season ago and somewhat eased the pain of an entire state.