OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Standing on the field and watching as another team was presented the NCAA softball championship trophy, Keilani Ricketts and her Oklahoma teammates vowed to set out on a mission seeking redemption.
One year later, as the trophy was being handed out again, the Sooners were joyously on the receiving end.
Ricketts homered and drove in four runs, Michelle Gascoigne pitched a three-hit shutout and top-seeded Oklahoma won the NCAA softball championship by beating Tennessee 4-0 on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Women's College World Series finals.
"After last year's national championship game, it definitely gave us one of the most painful feelings I'm sure all of us have ever felt," said Ricketts, who was chosen as the most outstanding player of the World Series. "And we just accepted the fact that God didn't want us to win it that year and it wasn't our time.
"That just gave us so much drive and determination to get back to this moment."
Ricketts, the two-time national player of the year, drove a 2-1 pitch from Ivy Renfroe (22-5) halfway up the right-field bleachers for a three-run home run in the third inning and tacked on an RBI groundout in the seventh.
Ricketts got the night off in the circle after throwing a career-high 12 innings in Game 1 and moving to 35-1 on the season, but that just put the other half of her well-rounded game on display. She hit her 15th home run of the season and pushed her RBI total to 60.
No. 7 seed Tennessee (52-12) managed just three singles against Gascoigne (19-3), who struck out 12 and didn't walk anyone.
Ricketts, who was the designated player, was the first one charging out of the dugout when Gascoigne struck out pinch-hitter Lexi Overstreet looking to wrap up the Sooners' second national championship.
"What a phenomenal game that Michelle threw, who has not thrown in any of postseason and couldn't be on a bigger stage," coach Patty Gasso said. "Michelle stood on the mound and won a national championship."
Oklahoma (57-4) also won it all in 2000 and was the runner-up to Alabama last season, squandering a 3-0 lead in the finale of the best-of-three series.
"That's probably the worst place you want to be, making it that far to the national championship game and losing," right fielder Brianna Turang said. "But I think we definitely used that to jump start for the season, but we also tried not to let that bother us and just keep moving forward and keep fighting and keeping the faith.
"We did it and we got to this point. It was a great journey."
Following deadly tornadoes across the state in recent weeks, the Sooners wore batting helmets that replaced the usual OU logo with a blue image of the state of Oklahoma. A grade-school girl whose sister died in the May 20 tornado in Moore joined the team in the dugout for the postseason games following the tragedy.
"We had a lot of people we wanted to give pride to, make happy and just forget about things that have been going on," Gasso said.
The Sooners were a dominant force all season long, carrying the No. 1 ranking from the first week of the regular season and leading the nation in both scoring and earned-run average. It took a captivating 11th-inning rally for them to beat Tennessee in Game 1, with a dropped pop-up sparking a three-run outburst before Lauren Chamberlain's 30th home run of the season won it in the 12th.
"They are an amazing team. I spent nine years with our national team and I think that Oklahoma team would have beaten most of the other countries that we played, even the great ones," said Ralph Weekly, Tennessee's co-head coach.
"I don't know if they'd have beaten the U.S. But I'll tell you what, they're a great team."
Both teams went with their second-string starters after the Game 1 marathon, in which Ricketts and Ellen Renfroe — Ivy's younger sister — both had shutouts through 10 innings.
It didn't take nearly as long for an offensive breakthrough in Game 2.
After Ricketts provided the lead, Gascoigne struck out the side in order in the bottom of the third to start a string of eight batters in a row retired. She retired 15 of the final 16 batters she faced out, with Melissa Davin's one-out single in the fifth as the only interruption.
Kat Dotson and Madison Shipman had the only other hits for Tennessee, both singles.
"Michelle has been such a huge part of getting our team to this point, and to give her this opportunity was a big moment for her," Gasso said. "What I love is that Keilani was right there with it, saying, 'Yeah, go ahead. Let's do this.'"
Chamberlain, who gave Oklahoma two of the three finalists for national player of the year, tripled off the left-field wall to open the seventh before scoring on Ricketts' grounder to first.
Tennessee's Raven Chavanne, the other player of the year finalist and a .455 hitter entering the championship series, was hitless for a second straight game. She struck out in two of her three at-bats and finished the finals 0 for 9 with six strikeouts.
Weekly said the change from Ricketts to Gascoigne absolutely affected the adjustments the Lady Vols had planned to make on offense against Ricketts.
"We knew how good she was, but it's hard to find information on her," Weekly said. "We tried and I know it might have looked like we just weren't hitting out there, but I'll tell you. Our kids were really trying, we were making in-game adjustments and she just pitched a great game."
- Sports & Recreation
- NCAA softball championship
- Keilani Ricketts