OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The old saying goes “it’s never really over until it’s over.”
Oklahoma sincerely took those words to heart on Monday night during the opener of the best-of-three WCWS Championship Series at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, rallying from a three-run deficit with one out in the 11th before getting a two-run walk-off HR in the 12th off the bat of first baseman Lauren Chamberlain to stun Tennessee, 5-3 (12 inn.).
Chamberlain guided the OU offense by going 2-for-6 at the dish with a double, her 30th HR of the year and a pair of RBIs, left fielder Brianna Turang was 2-for-3 with a double, designated player Brittany Williams was (1-for-4) with a huge 11th-inning RBI double and center fielder Destinee Martinez posted a 1-for-5 effort with the game-tying RBI triple in the bottom of the 11th. Ricketts picked up the win from the circle, improving to 35-1 overall after allowing three earned runs on five hits with six walks and 13 strikeouts over 12 frames.
“I don't even know what to say, except I think that was the greatest game I've ever been a part of,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “I think both teams just battled and both pitchers were exceptional, defense, exceptional. Pitchers were owning it. You know, Tennessee put some things together, but the resiliency of this team and the fight, and them following instructions of just find your way on, don't try to be the big hero. Just find your way on, find your way on, and here we go again from your 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, back to Lauren. It was phenomenal how we ended up tying that game with just some clutch hits, and it all came in one inning, so sometimes that's all you need.
“I really don't even know what to say. That was one of the most amazing comebacks I've ever seen. I can't imagine. I mean, it's nervous on the field, I can't imagine how people felt watching it. But this is a team on a mission, and, man, I've never seen anything like it.”
In what had for so long been a pitcher’s duel, Tennessee hurler Ellen Renfroe (19-5) suffered the difficult loss, permitting five earned runs on 10 hits with three walks and 13 K’s over 11 innings. Shortstop Madison Shipman had pushed the Big Orange in front during the top of the 11th via a three-run HR, one of UT’s five hits in the match-up.
Starting off the contest Ricketts was thoroughly dominant against the Lady Vol offense during the top of the first as 10 of her 12 pitches either were fouled off or found the zone as the left hander K’ed the side.
Her counterpart in the circle was almost equally as overpowering during the bottom half as Renfroe got Chamberlain to pop-up to short, struck out second baseman Georgia Casey and then induced a harmless ground ball to short off the bat of third baseman Shelby Pendley to end the frame.
With an pitcher’s duel underway during the early going, neither team registered a base runner until the bottom of the third as Oklahoma right fielder Callie Parsons battled to draw a one-out walk. Following a fielder’s choice off the bat of Turang that served as the second out of the inning, Chamberlain quickly turned the situation into a full-fledged scoring opportunity by lining a double into the left center gap that rolled to the wall. Turang came rolling hard around third and looked to have a chance to score on the play but was held up by Sooner head coach Patty Gasso. With OU runners stationed at second and third, Renfroe escaped the jam by coercing a foul pop-up from Casey outside of third as the Sooners left a pair stranded in scoring position.
Ricketts surprised the Lady Vol defense with one out in the bottom of the fourth by dropping a perfect bunt up the third base line to reach via infield single. She soon swiped her ninth base of the season, and Shults soon joined her teammate on the base paths via intentional walk. Martinez stepped to the dish and ripped a liner the other way that looked as if it might escape through the infield. UT third baseman Raven Chavanne dove quickly to her left, however, corralling the liner to end the threat as the scoreless deadlock continued.
Shipman broke Ricketts’ string of 12 straight Lady Vols retired to open the game, becoming Tennessee’s initial base runner of the contest by leading off the top of the fifth with a free pass. She didn’t remain on the base paths for long, though, as a strong throw from behind the dish by Shults picked Shipman off for the first retirement of the inning. That play got even more important just a few pitches later as Lady Vol designated player Cheyanne Tarango and left fielder Melissa Davin each battled to draw walks. First baseman Melissa Brown stepped into the batter’s box facing a huge opportunity, but her bouncer back to the circle allowed Ricketts to start an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play.
After facing a pair of Sooner threats over the previous two innings, Renfroe faced no such issues in the bottom of the fifth as the right hander struck out Parsons, Turang and Chamberlain in order.
Tennessee’s Akamine broke up the Ricketts no-hit bid christening the top of the sixth on a leadoff single back through the middle. Center fielder Tory Lewis tried but failed to get the sacrifice bunt down on a pair of attempts before going down swinging for an important first out. Chavanne’s third strikeout of the contest and a bouncer to first by right fielder Kat Dotson that was corralled by Chamberlain wrapped up UT’s half of the sixth with no damage.
Neither team managed a base runner in the seventh as Ricketts and Renfroe retired their respective counterparts in order to force extra frames.
With either team looking for some sort of offensive spark, Tennessee’s Davin tried to provide one in the top of the eighth, albeit with help from Sooner shortstop Jessica Vest as the OU fielder misplayed a groundball to begin the frame. After a Brown sac bunt moved Davin into scoring position with one retired, catcher Hannah Akamine, who owned UT’s one hit of the night to that point, walked on four straight pitches. Freshman pinch hitter Rainey Gaffin was summoned from the bench to bat in a big spot and got ahead in the count 3-1 before Ricketts rebounded to post her 11th K of the match-up. Chavanne’s liner to short ended the once promising threat, however, as UT left a pair aboard heading to the bottom of the eighth.
Casey got the Oklahoma ninth off to a promising start with a high chopper that bounced over the glove of a leaping Chavanne at third and down the line for a single. Bidding for the sacrifice, OU baseman Shelby Pendley bunted a ball back to the circle that Renfroe corralled. The hurler decided to try for the out at first but her throw was low to a covering Gibson for an error as the Sooners advanced the game-winning run into scoring position. With one out in the frame, UT’s hurler uncorked a wild pitch allowing the base path duo to scramble up 60 feet into scoring position. The choice was made to intentionally walk Williams and set up the force at every base. The decision paid off immediately as Shults hit a bouncer to Brown at first, and she tossed home to Akamine to force Casey at the plate for out number two. The escape from the jam was complete just a few pitches later as Renfroe struck out Martinez, leaving a trio on Sooners on the bases.
Tarango christened the top of the 10th with a walk against Ricketts before being cut down at second on a fielder’s choice. Davin quickly moved into scoring position on her 10th stolen base of 2013, setting the stage for quite a battle between pitcher and hitter. Brown fought the lefthander over a 13-pitch at-bat before chopping back to the circle for the second out as the runner moved up within 60 feet of pay dirt. Akamine was intentionally walked to put Lady Vols at the corners, and the move paid dividends as Lewis went down swinging to end the threat.
With one out in the bottom of the 10th, Turang slapped a single just past the glove of Renfroe and through the middle for a base knock. Chamberlain just got under a pitch and lifted a towering fly ball to left that was squeezed by Davin for the second retirement. Turang advanced into scoring position by swiping her seventh base of the year only to watch as Casey’s weak pop-up was caught at first by Brown for the final out of the frame.
Tennessee’s Dotson and Gibson christened what proved to be the go ahead scoring chance for UT in the top of the 11th via a perfect slap single on the infield and a liner to center, respectively. Shipman stepped into the batter’s box and blasted a three-run HR to dead center field to grant the Lady Vols a 3-0 advantage.
Facing one last chance to rally and either extend or win the game, Ricketts tried to help her own cause as her towering fly ball to shallow right appeared to get affected by a stiff wind before bouncing out of Gibson’s glove. Before the end of the inning that drop would prove extremely costly. With the hurler stationed at second following the play and one out, Williams drove a double into the right center gap, scoring Ricketts to cut the OU deficit to 3-1. Renfroe induced a routine grounder to first from Shults, moving the Sooners within one out of dropping the series opener. Martinez delivered in the clutch spot, however, slapping a triple to center over the drawn-in outfield to plate pinch runner Erica Sampson and make it 3-2. Parsons stepped into the batter’s box with the pro-Sooner crowd on its feet and promptly delivered the biggest OU hit of the contest with a shot to left center. She was thrown out attempting to stretch a double into a triple, but the damage had been done to send the match-up on to the 12th.
With Ricketts back in form in the circle, it appeared only a matter of time before Oklahoma would finish off a remarkable comeback win. Turang started the decisive outburst with a leadoff double down the left field line in the bottom of the 12th. Chamberlain ended things seconds later by driving a towering two-run shot just inside the foul pole in left for a remarkable 5-3 comeback win.