NORMAN — It’s Kelsey, with a “K” — as in, strikeout.
Eleven of them, actually.
Oklahoma pitcher Kelsey Stevens, who hit a few rough spots in allowing 16 earned runs in three regional tournament victories last week, was sharp in the circle Friday night, pitching the seventh-seeded Sooners to an 8-1 victory over No. 10 seed Tennessee in the opening game of the best-of-3 super regional at Marita Hynes Field.
Defending national champion OU is one win away from its fourth consecutive Women’s College World Series appearance, with the second game of the series set for 4 p.m. Saturday at OU. The third and deciding game would be played afterward, if necessary.
Stevens’ only run allowed came in the fourth inning, her first inning back on the field after a 2-hour, 36-minute rain delay.
“Kelsey really started out strong and she finished strong,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “That’s a really tough offense. When we came out after the rain delay, they came out a little more aggressive and a little more in tune.
“We’ve been waiting to see that loose competitive spirit back out there (from Stevens). She took last weekend and said, ‘I’m better than this.’ This is an explosive Tennessee offense. For anybody to hold them to one run is an impressive achievement.”
Stevens improved to 36-7 on the year, while Tennessee’s Ellen Renfroe dropped to 29-7. Stevens’ 11 strikeouts was one short of a career high for the sophomore in her first season as the Sooners’ starter.
“I just felt really loose,” she said. “I was hitting my spots well. I felt a lot of energy from my team with the offense hitting so well.”
The Sooners backed Stevens’ effort with a combination of small-ball and big hits.
OU produced a run each in of the first two innings with the benefit of just one extra-base hit. But the bats came alive late in the night to put the game away.
Brittany Williams hit a towering home run to center field in the fifth inning, her 13th of the year. Lauren Chamberlain had an RBI double in the sixth, followed by Shelby Pendley’s 17th home run of the season that made the OU lead 8-1.
Chamberlain was 3-for-4 with two RBI. Williams and Georgia Casey each had two hits and an RBI.
“What I was really pleased with was execution,” Gasso said. “It was those little things we needed to do well. We played fundamental softball.
“The defense played well, pitching was on point and offense was on point, top to bottom.”
One looming question was Williams’ status for Saturday. The right fielder injured her left arm diving for a fly ball in the seventh inning and left the game, but Gasso said it was too early to know the extent of the injury.