OKLAHOMA CITY - It was a dark and stormy night - no, really, it was.
And it was long.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma and its fans, the Women’s College World Series Championship’s deciding Game 3 was also ugly.
The heavy rain didn’t help OU starting pitcher Keilani Ricketts any. Alabama took advantage of four Ricketts’ wild pitches and a Sooner error in the bottom of the fourth inning, then added what would turn out to be a very important insurance run an inning later to come from behind and beat OU 5-4, earning its first national championship in program history.
“I want to give Alabama so much credit,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “They played hard, we played hard. Their fans were great and brought out the best in our fans … They really deserved it. They did a fantastic job.”
Sooner fans had plenty to cheer about early.
Ricketts got OU started with a bang in the top of the second inning. She took the first pitch she saw from Jackie Traina way up into the right-field bleachers. An inning later, Sooner freshman Lauren Chamberlain showed Ricketts up with an even longer homer into the left-field seats. Chamberlain’s was a two-run shot that put OU up 3-0, and all was looking good for the Sooner Nation.
The lead wouldn’t last, though, and Mother Nature would play a big part in OU’s loss.
“I feel like they’re my own kids,” an emotional Gasso said of her team after the game. “It hurts me and it hurts them. But they’re so talented, and I’m so proud of them … We are so blessed to have been given the opportunity to play for a national championship.”
The game started almost three hours late thanks to heavy rain and storms across the state.
The nasty weather’s return to the WCWS would bring with it severe consequences for OU.
A second rain delay, this one much shorter, came at 11:15 p.m., but only after Ricketts lost her grip on the wet softball a few times, and only after Gasso left the dugout twice to visit home plate umpire Christie Cornwell, visibly upset at the worsening conditions.
The delay came too late for the Sooners, though. Ricketts’ brought in a run with her third wild pitch of the inning.
When the teams returned to the field, it really fell apart for OU. Kendall Dawson, who had advanced to third on the run-scoring wild pitch, scored on a single by Amanda Locke who scored on a double by Courtney Conley who came home on OU’s only error, a wild toss on a grounder by Sooner third baseman Javen Henson.
Alabama scored four runs in the inning on three hits, three wild pitches from Ricketts and an OU error.
“You could see that Mother Nature was taking its course at a time when it was getting heavier for us,” Gasso said. “It’s just the way it happened. I thought the umpires did a great job throughout the entire series. It just happened. Yes, it took momentum away. That’s just the way it was meant to be.”
Ricketts didn’t make excuses after the game, either.
“Honestly, I just wanted to pitch through it,” the Sooner hurler said. “I wasn’t concentrating on the rain. I didn’t even realize it was affecting the way I was pitching, even though I threw a lot of wild pitches. The rain just kept coming down, and Alabama did a great job taking the momentum and running with it.”
When Traina returned to the circle for the top of the fifth inning, the rain stopped, and the now-trailing Sooner squad went 1-2-3.
Traina helped her own cause in the bottom of the fifth inning, driving in a run to put ’Bama up by two.
Traina kept the Sooners scoreless until the top of the seventh inning, when Chamberlain went deep again, this time with a solo shot to right field. It wasn’t enough, though, and Ricketts struck out to end the game, giving Alabama its first national title. The Crimson Tide became just the second team from east of the Mississippi to win the NCAA softball crown, following Michigan in 2005.
Alabama finished the season 60-8. The Sooners finished 54-10.
- Jeff Johncox is a writer for the Norman Transcript