OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - One more victory. That's all that separates Oklahoma from its second national championship in NCAA softball. But without that victory, the Sooners have accomplished nothing; half a championship is no championship at all.
Oklahoma's workmanlike 4-1 victory over Alabama Monday night in Game One of the NCAA Women's College World Series puts OU on the brink of history. The Sooners gave Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina just her third loss against 40 victories. But Oklahoma is convinced the Crimson Tide plans to roll over and accept second place.
"I know Pat Murphy, I know Alabama and I know they're gonna come out ready to play and ready to win," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "The best thing about this is we've got a safety net.
"We approached this like a Big 12 series. We've won all our Big 12 series by winning the first game. We've got two times to win one more. Win one more and you've won the Big 12 series ... but it's a little bit bigger than that."
Oklahoma (54-8) won its 12th consecutive game and ended Alabama's 11-game winning streak by exhibiting patient confidence. The Sooners put two runners on base in the first two innings but failed to score. Gasso could be seen on the ESPN2 telecast saying "We got this" as she left the third base coaching box after the second inning.
"I say that a lot," she said. "In the dugout, it's always, 'We're there ... we're OK ... we've got this.' This team is so confident. It's a pleasure to be around them. I've never been so calm and so cool in such a big arena."
Confidence and serenity comes with the territory when you have a pitcher like Keilani Ricketts. The junior continued to be dominant in the circle, allowing five hits and striking out 12.
Gasso's peaceful easy feeling also comes from a lineup that relentlessly attacks. The Sooners banged out 11 hits against Traina but left a season-high 12 runners on base. After Alabama scratched out a run in the bottom of the fourth, OU trailed 1-0 and had stranded eight runners.
"Getting runners on base is a great thing that builds momentum for our team that we can hit this (pitcher)," catcher Jessica Shults said. "Getting runners on base, even though we're not scoring them right away, we think things are going to come together, and people will catch up at the right time."
That time turned out to be the top of the fifth. Lauren Chamberlain started it with a walk. Ricketts - who nearly hit a three-run homer in the top of the first - scorched a liner that went off the glove of Alabama shortstop Kaila Hunt and into left center.
Chamberlain hesitated rounding second but then raced to third, beating the throw. Ricketts advanced to second. Shults followed with a sacrifice fly to center. After Katie Norris singled to put runners at the corners, Ricketts scored the lead run on a fielder's choice grounder by Brianna Turang.
Two Alabama errors led to two more OU runs in the top of the sixth. Shults drove in one with a single to left while Norris plated Ricketts with a perfect suicide squeeze.
"When you score on us, we want to score right back," Gasso said of her team's bounce-back mentality.
As Gasso and four of her players answered questions from the media Monday night, it was not hard to envision in 24 more hours Oklahoma representatives sitting at the same table talking about winning the national championship. Ricketts said she doesn't plan to let her mind run wild with visions of celebratory dog piles.
"We'll just go after it like we do every game," she said. "We haven't won that game yet. Alabama is gonna fight back. We know it's gonna be a battle."