OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso has the best of both worlds.
When it comes to pitching the veteran coach with more than 1,000 career victories gets to send out Keilani Ricketts. The left-handed junior from San Jose, Calif., showed why she was voted the nation’s player of the year on Friday night with a dominating 16-strikeout performance in a two-hit shutout against one of the country’s best offenses, the California Bears. Opponents have failed to score an earned run on Ricketts over the last 40 innings.
The other side of the ledger shows an Oklahoma offense that has pounded 97 home runs, including two in the Sooners’ first two games at the 2012 Women’s College World Series. Freshman Lauren Chamberlain hit number 28 in Thursday’s win over South Florida. Georgia Casey hit her 10th off California ace Jolene Henderson on Friday.
|WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES|
June 2 Highlights
California 6, Oregon 3
Arizona State 6, LSU 0
Oregon 3, Tennessee 1
LSU 1, South Florida 0
Getting to Know
• LSU | UC | USF | OU | UO | ASU | UT | UA
• Alabama stands tall at WCWS
• Oklahoma’s powerful punch
• LSU’s long, winding road
• Two better than one for Bears
• How a Kiwi changed the Ducks
• Bulls following plan to the letter
• Previewing the Women’s College World Series
Beating that powerful combination once, let alone twice, will be hard to do as the WCWS goes in search of its championship series participants.
“It’s humiliating for our hitters at times, but what we know is that (facing Ricketts) makes them better,” said Gasso. “When we play in the Big 12 and face those elite pitchers, we know it makes us better. Whether we win or lose, we need to thank the Big 12 pitchers because they made us better.”
Chamberlain, a product of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., has had little difficulty solving Division I pitching. Along with her 27 homers heading into the WCWS, the first basemen hit .352, knocked in 71 runs, and had an off-the-charts slugging percentage of .869.
“It’s kind of like a win-win when we face her in practice because we’re making her better and she’s making us better,” said Chamberlain. “Her extreme confidence on the mound, it’s a little scary at first when you get in the box. She’s just so confident up there, which she should be because she works hard. I think it builds our confidence in the box when we see her, she just makes us better.
“I feel like when we face another pitcher, we respect any other pitcher you play against, but knowing you have hit off Keilani Ricketts in practice gives you an extra boost of confidence. ‘Lani can simulate any pitcher out there with her speed and movement at the same time.”
The way Ricketts threw Friday night, especially with a nasty change-up; it’s hard to imagine her losing seven games in 2012. Her numbers border on amazing. In 254.2 innings the lefty struck out 393, walked just 40, and compiled a .99 earned run average. In a Super Regional sweep of Arizona she did not allow an earned run, struck out 22 and gave just 10 hits.
South Florida batters struck out 11 times and managed three hits. Friday night’s performance, for all who witnessed it, is admittedly one of the best in WCWS history.
“It’s been a joy to watch her mature the last couple years and really see light bulbs go on for her,” added Gasso. “I think this last season was a real light bulb moment. Having gone through the US national team gave her some really valuable maturity when she came back from that experience.
“She really, a lot of people talk about their expectations for her, and I think she’s always tried to live up to that. I think she finally exhaled and said, ‘It is what it is, I am who I am, I’m going to do the best I can and hopefully it’s good enough.’ But you know the comment she gets is, you should be the No. 1 pitcher in the country, you should be this, be that, and I think that really got in her head and I think she now has let that go.”
Said Ricketts, “I definitely feel like (the Cal) game was one of our best games, just because we were hitting well and we were playing defense great. And the pitches being called and the pitching was good; it was all what you need to do to win against a team like (Cal.)
“I just feel like I’ve been locked in this whole preseason.”
California’s Valerie Arioto, one of the nation’s top hitters, struck out twice in three at-bats.
“I think she showed why she is the player of the year,” said Arioto. “She did a good job of keeping us off balance.”
“Her change-up was on,” said Cal senior Jace Williams, a left-handed hitter who had one of the Bears’ two hits. “It was dropping off the table.”
Ricketts is also a big part of the offense she brags about. In the two WCWS games she has a pair of RBIs to move her season total to 47, third on the team behind Chamberlain and catcher Jessica Shults. Ricketts is one of four Sooner hitters with at least 10 homers this season – Schults has 19 with Casey hitting her 10th on Friday. Ricketts’ .407 batting average led a group of Schults (.382), Casey (.376), Brianna Turang (.364) and Chamberlain (.352) on a team that hit .321 entering the WCWS. Turang, a junior from Corona, Calif., will enter Sunday with 10 hits in 17 postseason at-bats.
“When I first got here, I just wanted to be an impact player for my team,” said Chamberlain. “Wherever they put me on the field or in the lineup I wanted to start and make an impact. Everything that is come for me and our team is a tribute to how hard we work.”
Oklahoma has scored 388 runs this season. Opponents have managed 77 runs, and only one run in two WCWS games. That adds up to a team which will be very tough to beat on Sunday.