OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – It obviously takes a load of talent to be selected as the USA Softball National Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. That talent was on bright display in front of 8,860 mostly Crimson & Cream-clad fans on Thursday night at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., as Keilani Ricketts fired a no-hitter and struck out 12 while leading the top-seeded Sooners past eighth-seeded Michigan, 7-1.
Chamberlain helped power the Oklahoma offensive effort by going 2-for-4 at the dish with a two-run HR, catcher Jessica Shults was a perfect 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs and second baseman Georgia Casey, designated player Brittany Williams and right fielder Callie Parsons each went 1-for-3 with a RBI.
“I thought that we came ready to play,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “It was a long day of waiting; and that, I think is one of the hardest things just watching things on TV and waiting and waiting and waiting. I think we started off a little slow, but the sign of a good team is one that answers a score, and when Michigan came up to score one, we answered four. So I thought the team and Keilani obviously threw a tremendous game, and Lauren doing what she does. It was great to see Shults step up and get some big RBIs for us. I thought the defense played well and a little shaky in one, maybe two innings, but after that we settled in and did our thing and did it pretty well.”
Michigan center fielder Lyndsay Doyle (0-for-4) was credited with UM’s lone RBI on a third-inning fielder’s choice. In the circle Sara Driesenga allowed six earned runs and nine hits over six innings of work for the Wolverines to suffer the defeat.
Following a dominant top of the first inning from the circle that included a pair of strikeouts by Ricketts, the Sooners managed the game’s initial base runner as Casey drew a one-out walk off Driesenga. With two down following a strikeout of OU third baseman Shelby Pendley, Ricketts ripped a sharp single into right field. Michigan’s Nicole Sappingfield quickly corralled the ball and fired a strike to third, nailing Casey to conclude the threat with no damage done.
After OU catcher Jessica Shults reached on a one-out free pass in the bottom of the second, Sierra Romero continued the Wolverine trend of flashing the leather early on via a great play in the hole on a chopper from center fielder Destinee Martinez. Running away from second, the UM shortstop made the grab, pivoted quickly and fired a strike to cut down the lead runner for a big out. A Sooner stolen base went for naught as Driesenga picked up her fourth K of the match-up by getting right fielder Callie Parson swinging to conclude the frame.
Michigan finally got something started against Ricketts leading off the top of the third but it took a little help from the Sooner defense. Left fielder Sierra Lawrence bounced a high chopper to third that was charged by Pendley. The OU fielder made the grab, and her throw to first was in plenty of time, but it traveled wide of the base for an error as the runner advanced into scoring position. With one out in the inning, the OU defense again made a mistake as center fielder Lyndsay Doyle chopped a ball to third that Pendley nabbed. She turned and checked the lead runner at second, throwing behind Lawrence in an attempt to begin a rundown. The UM runner proved too speedy, however, sliding into third just ahead of a tag to place Wolverines on the corners. Center fielder Lyndsay Doyle followed soon after with a dribbler towards the circle that forced Ricketts to charge. The hurler scooped and tossed underhanded to the plate, but Shults couldn’t hold on to the ball as Lawrence slid in with the contest’s initial tally. During the frame Michigan managed to nab its 1-0 lead without the benefit of a single hit.
An error on the Wolverine defense helped get the Sooner offense untracked starting the bottom of the third as OU sought an immediate answer. A throwing error by UM third baseman Amy Knapp allowed left fielder Brianna Turang to reach opening the frame. Chamberlain followed with a hard single to right, and the duo pulled off a double steal to reach scoring position. That set the stage for a RBI single through the left side of the infield off the bat of Casey as Turang scored easily to tie the count at 1-1. Ricketts was intentionally walked to pack the bags full of Sooners for Willams. In the clutch she delivered a RBI base knock to left as Chamberlain crossed for a 2-1 lead. With the bases still loaded and one retired, Shults blooped a ball just over the outstretched glove of UM’s Ashley Lane at second and into right center for a two-RBI single as the advantage expanded to 4-1. The situation could have gotten even worse if not for a pair of great diving stops by Lane and Romero at second on sharp bouncers from Martinez and Parsons. Those two terrific plays ended the frame as Oklahoma left a pair of runners stranded on the base paths.
OU’s Chamberlain broke out the long ball during the bottom of the fourth. Following a Turang infield hit back to the circle, the first baseman crushed a Driesenga pitch deep to center for a 6-1 Sooner advantage.
The Oklahoma lead continued to expand during the bottom of the fifth as Parsons followed a one-out infield hit by Shults with a base hit up the middle, plating pinch runner Erica Sampson to make it 7-1.
Michigan’s Romero broke a string of six straight batters retired by Ricketts with a one-out walk in the top of the sixth. First baseman Caitlin Blanchard followed by getting struck on the back leg by a pitch. That placed a pair aboard for the Wolverines and marked the first time UM had a runner reach second base since the third frame. Ricketts failed to blink in the face of the first scoring threat in quite a while, striking out Lane and catcher Lauren Sweet to keep her no-hitter intact through six innings.
Faced with one last chance to extend the contest and break up the no-no in the top of the seventh, Lawrence tried to get UM going via drawing a leadoff walk off Ricketts. Pinch hitter Jaclyn Crummey became the OU hurler’s 12th strikeout victim and third baseman Amy Knapp hit into a fielder’s choice to put two quick outs on the scoreboard. Doyle turned on an inside offering, lacing it up the first base line but right to Chamberlain as she made the play to finish off the no-hitter.