Keilani Ricketts' finest moment didn't come in the pitching circle. Strange for college softball's best pitcher, on a team that Tuesday night won the NCAA championship.
And Ricketts' finest moment didn't come with the bat in her hand. Strange for the sport's latest Babe Ruth, a slugger who hit the game-winning home run in the Women's College World Series title game.
Ricketts' finest moment came when she said fine. Her finest moment came earlier Tuesday, when the pitcher who throws every big game for the Sooners said it was no problem if fellow senior Michelle Gascoigne pitched what could be their final college competition.
Ricketts' finest moment came when she said winning the championship was all that mattered, not how the championship was won.
OU beat Tennessee 4-0 to sweep the WCWS championship series and exorcise the sting of last June, when the Sooners squandered what appeared to be a likely national title.
“One year ago, we watched another team celebrate right in front of us,” said OU coach Patty Gasso. “When that last out was recorded (by Alabama), all of a sudden the Sooners were supposed to be the team to beat. It's very difficult to live that way. But this team is resilient.”
This team is more than resilient. More than historically great, befitting a team that finished with a 57-4 record and outscored opponents by 405 runs.
This team is laudable because on its biggest stage, its biggest star was willing to share the spotlight.
Gasso gave the ball to Gascoigne for Game 2 of the championship series. Unorthodox move. The formula for an NCAA softball title is clear: find a great ace and ride her to the finish.
But Gasso's move worked famously. A day after battling Ricketts for 12 innings, the Volunteers stayed completely fooled all night against Gascoigne.
And when Ricketts launched a three-run homer in the third inning, Gascoigne had more than enough run support to finish off a remarkable three-hit shutout in which she struck out more than half the batters she faced (12 of 23).
“It was really cool to just be able to get the runs for Michelle myself, because I knew what it was like last night when we were scoreless for a long time,” Ricketts said. “She was pitching her heart out.
“All we wanted was to win. It wasn't about me wanting to win it for the team. It was about our team wanting to win it for each other.”
Here's why Gasso's move seemed dubious. Do you want Tennessee to have to beat the nation's best pitcher once or twice to win the World Series? The first is possible. The second a longshot.
But maybe such a bold move by Gasso is made easier knowing the character of your players. Maybe knowing Ricketts wouldn't get her dobber down, and knowing that her bat would remain lethal, made the decision more resolute.
“Keilani threw 188 pitches last night, and that had a lot to do with it,” Gasso said. “But Michelle has been such a huge part of getting our team to this point. To give her this opportunity was a big moment for her, and what I love is that Keilani was right there with it saying, ‘Yeah, go ahead. Let's do this and share the moment together.'
“Keilani has had a ton of big moments, and the fact that she was wanting to share this with Michelle, I think probably helped Michelle get on the mound and say, ‘I've got this. Let me do this for us.' And, man, what a phenomenal game that Michelle threw.”
The tension of the 12-inning Monday night classic was nowhere to be found, after Ricketts' home run. She fist-pumped maybe 20 feet from home plate, knowing that the ball was gone and three-run security had arrived.
And when the seventh inning came, and the final out of the season was upon us, Ricketts was in the dugout. Not where you expect to find the nation's best pitcher.
“Wasn't too much of a strange feeling,” Ricketts said.
And when Gascoigne slipped strike three past Tennessee's Lexi Overstreet to give OU its first NCAA softball championship in 13 years, it was Gascoigne who was on the receiving end of the obligatory dogpile.
Catcher Jessica Shults and third baseman Shelby Pendley were the first to embrace Gascoigne. But Ricketts, sprinting from the dugout, was not far behind in what ranked as her second-finest moment.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.