OKLAHOMA CITY - Equal parts irony and destiny have combined to create what might be a classic NCAA Women's College World Series championship.
No. 4 seed Oklahoma and No. 2 seed Alabama start a best-of-three series at 7 p.m. Monday at ASA Hall Of Fame Park. The WCWS title series starts a day after the Big 12 Conference (Texas) bested the Southeastern Conference (Alabama) in the men's golf championship.
A year ago, the Big 12 placed four teams in the eight-team WCWS ... but none reached the championship round. This year, Oklahoma was the only Big 12 team to make it here. In 2011, the Sooners were without catcher Jessica Schults, a top hitter and spiritual leader. She feared her career might be over because of colitis. She's back and is combining with freshmen Lauren Chamberlain and Georgia Casey to give OU a potent attack.
"For us, the way we've gone through this tournament, we've played the best," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of her team that is 8-0 in NCAA games so far. "And I like it that way, because we've earned the right to be here."
Alabama is one of three SEC schools to make it here and is playing for the national championship for the first time in school history. Both Alabama and Oklahoma made sure that for the first time since 1986 the Pacific-12 Conference won't be the WCWS champion or runner-up. Both the Sooners and the Tide defeated defending national champion Arizona State and Cal, the No. 1 seed. Since 2000, the Pac-12 has won 10 of the last 11 NCAA softball titles.
"Both teams got here because we're very good, we're very competitive," said Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina, who earned the win in the Crimson Tide's 5-2 Sunday victory over California. "We have great hitters and we have good pitching, so I think it's going to be a great matchup for sure."
The Sooners won the championship in 2000 when it was a one-game, winner-take-all contest. As the Big 12 regular-season champions, Oklahoma went into the NCAA tournament positioned to make a deep run. OU is now two victories away from carrying a title trophy back to Norman.
Oklahoma went 3-0 and clinched a spot in the championship round with a hard-fought 5-3 victory over Arizona State Sunday. The Sooners fell behind 2-0 but battled back to win. Junior pitcher Keilani Ricketts, who had been nearly untouchable before Sunday's game, had to battle her way to a complete-game victory.
Ricketts had a streak of 40.2 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 four ASU hitters.
"All I remember was every inning was a battle," said Ricketts, who threw 156 pitches and struck out 13. "One through nine, those hitters were just giving me a battle. They were making me work."
Thanks in part to Oklahoma's presence, the stadium has been packed and attendance records have been shattered. The Sooners are in position to give their fans a reward.
"To find a way to play for a national championship has been our ultimate dream and our ultimate goal, and to know that there is a chance for reality is unbelievable," Gasso said. "The hard work and effort that they put in, there's not a team that deserves it more than my Sooners."
Women's College World Series
ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Oklahoma City
No. 4 Oklahoma (53-8) vs. Alabama (58-7)
7 p.m. Monday ESPN2.
No. 4 seed Oklahoma and No. 2 seed Alabama each went 3-0 in their four-team brackets. The winners of the 4-team brackets will play a best-of-three series to determine the national champion. If Wednesday's Game Three is necessary, it will start at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to air on ESPN.
Oklahoma is making its eighth WCWS appearance and is trying to win its first national championship since 2000. ... The Sooners are the first Big 12 team to reach the championship round since Texas A&M in 2008. ... Alabama has been to the WCWS eight times and is seeking its first national championship and has reached the championship round for the first time.
Junior All-Americanr Kelani Ricketts, selected as the national player of the year by USA Softball, has been dominant in the circle. In 10 NCAA games she has struck out 84 hitters in 52 innings. In three WCWS victories, she has Ked 40 in 21 frames. Ricketts is 36-7 with a 0.99 ERA with 433 strikeouts in 275.2 innings. ... Freshman first baseman Lauren Chamberlain has continued to pound the ball. She leads the Sooners in slugging percentage (.871), home runs (28) and RBI (74). Her home run total is a single-season Big 12 record. ... The Sooners have won 13 in a row and 18 of their last 19. Oklahoma has hit 98 home runs and is hitting .317.
The Crimson Tide started the season with a 26-game winning streak and have won their last 11. Alabama has outscored its opponents 52-16 during its current streak. ... Sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina has a 40-2 record with a 1.70 ERA. She has struck out 341 in 267.2 innings. Traina also is hitting .309 with 10 homers and 33 RBI. ... Alabama's top hitter is sophomore shortstop Kaila Hunt who is hitting .318 with 21 homers and 76 RBI. ...The Tide has hit 97 home runs and has 139 stolen bases. Senior outfielder Jennifer Fenton is hitting .389 with 43 steals while junior outfielder Kayla Braud is at .356 with 41 steals.