By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. –
The wait continues and it was made more tedious by the fact that rain twice delayed the biggest game of Oklahoma's season. The Sooners' will have to wait another season to win its second national championship in women's softball.
In 2000, Oklahoma won the title wearing shorts. The sported the same fashion statement for Tuesday night/Wednesday morning's Game 3. "Fear The Shorts" was the motto. Unfortunately for the Sooners, no amount of mojo could stop Alabama's penchant for clutch hitting in big innings.
The Crimson Tide (60-8) bounced back from an early 3-0 deficit to post a 5-4 victory in the deciding game of the Women's College World Series. It was the first national title in the sport for Alabama and the Southeastern Conference.
The game was delayed nearly three hours and didn't start until nearly 10 p.m. When it did, though, the Sooners (54-10) started fast.
"It was a weird day," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "The biggest game of our lives and we're sitting in the locker room for three hours. We came out wearing our shorts, came out with everything we had, came out on fire."
Keilaini Ricketts crushed a two-out homer to right field in the top of the first. The Ricketts Rocket was followed by the junior pitcher striking out the side. She whiffed two more in the bottom of the second. In the top of the third, freshman Lauren Chamberlain hit a two-out, two-run homer to left field to give OU a 3-0 lead.
The University of Oklahoma is one of the hosts for the WCWS but the Sooners took hospitality too far. In Alabama's two victories, it scored 13 runs and only five were earned.
In Tuesday's Game Two, Ricketts plunked a WCWS single-game record five Tide hitters. After dominating in the first two innings of Game Three, she lost control again – this time in Alabama's decisive fourth inning.
Ricketts fired four wild pitches to help Alabama move around the bases. And after No. 8 hitter Courtney Conley tied the game with a double to deep center, she scored from second when OU shortstop Jessica Vest short-hopped a throw to first.
"It did take the momentum away," Gasso said of the mid-game delay. "It's hard to come back and get refocused. It's just the way it happened."
"I wanted to pitch through it," Ricketts said of the rain. "I didn't realize it was affecting the way I was pitching even though I had some wild pitches. Alabama did a great job the entire series of taking the momentum and going with it."
The deciding run came courtesy of another OU mistake. Jennifer Fenton led off the fifth with a single and advance to second on a passed ball. She went to third on a grounder to second that could have been a fielder's choice had she not moved up. Fenton scored when Traina singled to right.
Chamberlain hit her second homer of the night and 30th of the season with two outs in the seventh. Destinee Martinez, the previous hitter, was called out on an interference play on her grounder up the first base line; Gasso agreed it was the correct call. Ricketts took a called third strike that led Alabama's obligatory infield dog pile – a scene the Sooners wanted to enact, not watch.
The Tide scored all four of its runs in the fourth with two outs. Traina was down 0-2 in the count when she singled in the deciding run. In Game Two, Alabama's two big hits – bases clearing doubles – came with two outs.
Catcher Jessica Shults nearly flipped the scoreboard in the fifth inning. The Sooners trailed 4-3 and had two runners on with two outs. She drove a pitch high and deep to right center but it was caught on the warning track.
"Winning championships is a game of inches one way or another," Gasso said. "I thought that had a shot."
Softball can be a cruel game. One strike, one pitch or one play can make the difference. Oklahoma has the offseason to ponder what went wrong in its two losses here at ASA Hall Of Fame Stadium.