Oklahoma admitted to nerves during its Women's College World Series opener against South Florida on Thursday afternoon at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Sooner star Keilani Ricketts felt them. Coach Patty Gasso noticed them.
The Sooners were the event's opening act. The team with the largest group of fans. And they still felt the occasional reminder of last season's 0-2 showing in Oklahoma City.
But the OU bats came alive late against the Bulls, and Ricketts struck out 11 to help propel the Sooners to a 5-1 victory to move into the winners' bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
The reward? Time to prepare and rest before taking their shot at No. 1 California at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We're wanting to put on a good show, and we're wanting to win,” OU coach Patty Gasso said of the Thursday's emotions. “The goal here is to keep these guys in tune with what they're good at.
“Sometimes we get frustrated at ourselves because we're not getting what we want, and that can turn into some emotions that we don't want.”
OU (51-8), the No. 4 seed in the WCWS, did not get what it wanted the first time through the batting order against USF ace Sara Nevins. The Sooners were held hitless in the first three innings, while the Bulls took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Kourtney Salvarola singled to center to score pinch runner Courtney Goff.
The results changed, however, when the OU hitters got to face Nevins for the second time.
Destinee Martinez led off the Sooner half of the fourth by poking a single into left field. Then freshman slugger Lauren Chamberlain delivered the big blow, crushing a no-doubt, two-run homer into the wind over the wall in center to give the Sooners a 2-1 advantage. It was the 28th home run of the season for the first-team All-American, which increases her Big 12 single-season record.
“Those are important things that you, as a team, need to do when you're at this big venue and trying to win it all,” Gasso said. “You have to know how to answer. I think that was the thing that stuck out the most to me was how we answered immediately.”
Said Chamberlain: “I was struggling a little bit my first at-bat on just trying to catch up to her speed. I was getting a little jammed on it. I tried to keep the same approach of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. Second time around, I didn't want to get cheated.”
The two runs would have been enough for Ricketts, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. She allowed three hits and one walk to up her season record to 34-7.
But the Sooners tacked on three more runs in the sixth on an RBI triple off the wall in left by Ricketts, an RBI single to center by Brianna Turang and a bases-loaded walk to pinch hitter Brittany Williams.
Gasso said the coaching staff planned to spend most of the night watching film on Cal, the favorites to win the national championship. The Golden Bears feature two of the game's biggest stars in pitcher Jolene Henderson (37-2 record, 1.15 ERA, 309 strikeouts) and first baseman Valerie Arioto (.385 average, 23 home runs, 60 RBIs).
And Ricketts said continued success in the Sooners' quest for a national championship will depend most on mindset.
“We just need to trust each other and trust ourselves,” Ricketts said. “When you're nervous out there, it's easy to try to do so much. But honestly, what we did before was good enough to get here. So we just have to stick with that game plan, just relax out there.”