Oklahoma Advances to Women's College World Series Finals
Courtesy: Big12Sports.com
          Release: 06/03/2012
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OKLAHOMA CITY (Courtesy of SoonerSports.com) - Maybe it was the hot weather and the humidity.

Honestly, it could have been the pressure, too.

A lot is expected of Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts, the National Player of the Year who came into the Women's College World Series carrying the resume of a champion and the expectation of greatness.

But, man, Sunday was a grind.

Ricketts wasn't her usual, dominant self, but she was good enough, and that's what matters now.

Oklahoma advanced to the championship game and is just two wins away from being NCAA champs for the first time since 2000 after a 5-3 victory over defending champ Arizona State.

"To find a way to play for a national championship has been our ultimate goal," OU coach Patty Gasso said. "There's not another team that deserves it more than my Sooners."

The Sooners will take on either Cal or Alabama in a best-of-three series starting at 7 p.m. Central Monday night. OU improved to 53-8 and ended Arizona State's season at 53-11. The Sooners are undefeated this postseason at 8-0.

While the previous seven wins certainly seemed simpler as OU outscored its opposition 53-6 coming in, featuring Ricketts and her tidy 0.16 postseason ERA, Sunday was just tough.

Ricketts had a streak of 40 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run Annie Lockwood of Arizona State hit a two-run double. Arizona State reached Ricketts for three earned runs and eight hits. She also walked for ASU hitters.

"That was one of the toughest games I've been a part of," Gasso said. "It was a lot of humidity and everyone on the field was feeling it."

Yet, when it counted the most, Ricketts was sensational. In addition to stranding nine runners, five of who were left in scoring position, Ricketts struck out the side in the seventh inning after allowing a leadoff single.

"All I remember is every inning was a battle," Ricketts said. "Those hitters were making me work. I'm thankful I had my teammates behind me."

But Ricketts helped herself, too. She had 13 strikeouts, the 25th time this season she's struck out 10 or more. She has struck out 84 hitters in 52 innings this postseason, including 40 in 21 innings here at the College World Series.

But Sunday, Ricketts also helped herself with a single in a four-run third inning which rallied the Sooners from a 2-1 deficit.

Katie Norris hit her fifth home run of the season, creeping over the fence in rightfield in the second inning before the Sooners put together four runs and four hits in the third inning, highlighted by a two-run double by Jessica Shults.

OU has now won 11 games in a row and has hit 98 home runs this season -- the most in the country.

"It was timeliness and a little luck," Gasso said. "This team understands you can strike out 10 or 12 times as long as we're putting runners in scoring position. It's finding ways to win. I've said that was one game I'll always remember."

ASU pitcher Dallas Escobedo struck out eight and allowed nine hits and four earned runs. She fell to 24-8 on the season. OU's Ricketts improved to 36-7.

"It's a dream come true for our athletes," Gasso said. "The crowd and the noise is indescribable. Something they'll remember forever."

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