MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

May 21, 2014

Sooners, Vols head to Super Regional from different directions

NORMAN — It’s a rematch a year in the making.

When Oklahoma and Tennessee met in the national championship series at the Women’s College World Series a season ago, the two teams turned in one of the most memorable title contests in recent years.

Facing down one of the most dominant teams in NCAA history, Tennessee entered the best-of-three series as the clear underdog, but as the opening game stretched into the 11th inning it was the Volunteers who took a three-run lead against USA Softball Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts.

But the Sooners were a team of destiny after being denied in the title game a year before. It began with memorable three-run comeback in the bottom of the 11th inning and a walk-off home run by Lauren Chamberlain, and the next night Michelle Gascoigne threw a complete game to wrap up the national title.

Now, the two teams will meet again, as 10-seed Tennessee visits Norman for a 7 p.m. game tonight to kick off the best-of-three Super Regional. The winner will advance to the Women’s College World Series, while the loser will end its season.

While the squads haven’t met this season, they have been connected. Despite returning most of the offense from its national-championship season, the Sooners began the season ranked second in the polls. The team in front of them? The Volunteers, who graduated All-Americans Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson as well as ace Ivy Renfroe but still returned a loaded team.

It was a development that caused some uproar in Norman, but one that made more sense after the Sooners struggled in the first several weeks of the season and Tennessee started 14-0.

But then things began to shift. The Volunteers (45-10) didn’t win the SEC, dropping seven games and losing to Kentucky in the opening round of the conference tournament. Oklahoma, on the other hand, developed into one of the hottest teams in nation, and after sweeping its regional last weekend the Sooners (48-10) have won 30 of their last 32 games.

Still, one of the biggest surprises of Selection Sunday was the Volunteers falling to the No. 10 seed. They’re behind No. 5 Florida, a team they swept during the regular season, as well as a No. 4 Georgia team they finished higher than in the SEC.

While Ivy Renfroe is gone, younger sister Ellen Renfroe has taken over as the team’s ace. She’s gone the distance in 29 of her 34 starts this season, and has 29 wins with a 1.93 ERA. She was effective in the title series against Oklahoma last year, and will take to the circle again this weekend, while SEC Player of the Year Madison Shipman will lead the Volunteers at the plate.

It’s a matchup that will test OU more than any series since they lost two of three to eventual six-seed Louisiana-Lafayette in March.

“Tennessee is always going to be a name that is going to live in our history,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “They have expectations that they should. They’re a strong team, well-coached and have the experience that we have. It’s going to be a great super regional.”

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