When the Oklahoma offense wasn't churning out run after run like the softball world had become accustomed to seeing, the Sooners turned to the foundation of the team, one the Sooners have been building on for the past four years.
National Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts struck out 12 Washington batters to lead the Sooners back to the Women's College World Series championship series with a 6-2 win over the Huskies.
It will be the second consecutive trip to the championship series for Oklahoma, and it will also be the second year in a row the Sooners have faced an SEC school. Oklahoma will take on Tennessee, which defeated Texas, 2-1 Sunday evening, with Game 1 set for 7 p.m. Monday night.
It was a much-needed performance for the Sooners against a very scrappy Washington team that refused to stand idly by and let the Oklahoma machine chew it up and spit it back out like it has done with so many opponents this season.
Ricketts allowed just three hits, but walked two batters and hit two more. Twice she worked her way out of situations where two runners were on base and the tying or go-ahead run was at the plate. She even picked up teammate Shelby Pendley, whose error in the fifth inning allowed a Washington run to score. Pendley—who has struggled throughout the WCWS—also struck out three times Sunday night to compound the error made in the field.
In the end, it didn't matter what Pendley did or didn't do on defense or at the plate, thanks not only to Ricketts' golden arm, but also thanks to her bat.
The Sooners opened the scoring in the third inning—a popular inning for Oklahoma in the WCWS—when Brianna Turang led off the inning with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch. Lauren Chamberlain then came to the plate and crushed a no-doubt home run to left that unofficially travelled 299 feet.
Two batters later, Ricketts came to the plate and blasted a no-doubt home run of her own to dead center. Armed with a 3-0 lead and a pair of jaw-dropping displays of power, it appeared the Sooners were on their way to another romp. When the Sooners loaded the bases in the fourth, OU was just a hit away from running away and hiding from Washington.
The Huskies wouldn't allow that to happen, getting out of the bases-loaded jam relatively unscathed and regaining some momentum in the fifth inning thanks to a solo home run from Kylee Lahners. Mercedes Wetmore scored the second run of the inning when Pendley's attempt to start an inning-ending double play sailed into right field.
OU got a run back in the sixth on an RBI single from Georgia Casey, but Washington threatened once again, putting runners on first and second with two outs before Ricketts induced a groundout from Whitney Jones to end the threat.
Ricketts slammed the door on the Huskies in the seventh, freezing Victoria Hayward with a changeup for the game-ending strikeout to send Oklahoma to a place it left last year empty-handed.
Players have come and gone through the Oklahoma softball program the past four years, but the biggest constant has been Ricketts. When the Sooners needed her most Sunday night—one of them more than others—Ricketts delivered.
Now, it's up to the best player in college softball to deliver Oklahoma's second national championship. The best part for Ricketts is she won't be doing it alone.