By Corbin Hosler
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – Michelle Gascoigne didn’t expect to find herself in this position. Starting the final game of Oklahoma’s season while teammate and Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts watched from the dugout. Neither did most of the pundits, who predicted that for OU to secure the national championship it was favored to win, the Sooners would need Ricketts in the circle.
But there was one person who wasn’t surprised. And that was Ricketts, who gave no thought to herself when she emphatically endorsed coach Patty Gasso’s decision to go with Gascoigne before the Sooners squared off against Tennessee in the deciding game of the national championship series.
“We wouldn’t be in this game without her,” Ricketts said of fellow senior Gascoigne, who struck out 12 in a 4-0 victory to clinch the 2013 national title. “Michelle’s had tremendous success all year long. Just to be able to help her out means a lot because she’s been a great teammate for us. She’s really just been a leader for us.”
It was that support that Gascoigne said gave her the confidence she needed to take the field, where she affirmed her coaches’ and teammates’ faith by pitching one of the best postseason games in Oklahoma history. She allowed just three baserunners in the game and became the focal point of the celebration when she struck out the Volunteers’ Lexi Overstreet to end the game.
“Just with knowing that Keilani was all for it and she was supporting me and she was going to be in the bullpen if I needed her, just brought me all the confidence in the world,” she said. “I know my teammates trust me, and that is something that I’ve always taken out on the mound with me. It’s really carried me through this whole season just knowing that they trust me and we’ve got each other’s back.”
Though Gascoigne never needed the other half of OU’s dominant pitching duo to relieve her in the circle, Ricketts did have her back at the plate. With two on in the third inning, Ricketts lifted an inside pitch well over the right field wall to put OU on the board.
That was all the run support Gascoigne would need as she frustrated the Tennessee lineup repeatedly on her way to the victory.
The one-two punch of Ricketts and Gascoigne, or as Gasso called them, the “one-A, one-B” punch carried the Sooners all season as they led the nation in team ERA on the way to a 57-4 team record. And, while outsiders may have been shocked, Tuesday’s turn of events didn’t surprise Gasso at all.
“To give her this opportunity was a big moment for her, and what I love is that Keilani was right there with it saying, ‘Yeah, go ahead, let’s do this and to share the moment together,’” Gasso said. “Keilani has had a ton of big moments, and the fact that she was wanting to share this with Michelle, I think probably helped Michelle get on the mound and say, ‘I’ve got this. Let me do this for us.’
“And, man, what a phenomenal game that Michelle threw. Couldn’t be on a bigger stage. Michelle stood on the mound and won a National Championship.”