OKLAHOMA CITY -- When the spotlight is on, the best usually shine the brightest. For Oklahoma, that means Lauren Chamberlain and Keilani Ricketts.
These Sooners, a team that went an unbelievable 57-4 this season and swept Tennessee in the best-of-three championship series at the 2013 Women’s College World Series, are certainly potent top-to-bottom. But make no mistake, this group was led by Chamberlain, a sophomore from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., and Ricketts, a senior from San Jose, Calif.
In the first game of the championship series, Ricketts threw 188 pitches through 12 innings. She made one mistake, allowing a three-run homer to UT’s Madison Shipman in the top of the 11th. In the bottom of the 12th, however, Chamberlain hit a game-winning, two-run homer. It was her third long ball of the week.
In the opener against Michigan, a 7-1 Sooner win, Chamberlain hit her 28th homer of the season, while Ricketts fanned 12 and tossed a no-hitter. Against Texas, Ricketts gave up just three hits in a 10-2 rout.
Chamberlain and Ricketts each homered in Sunday’s 6-2 win victory against Washington. In the circle, it was Ricketts again, tossing seven innings and striking out 12.
With the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium lights reflecting off the NCAA championship trophy on Tuesday night, it was Ricketts who put her team out front with a three-run homer into the right field bleachers in the top of the third inning.
Chamberlain finished the final game of her sophomore campaign, 2-for-2 with a pair of runs scored.
A quick examination of this week’s WCWS statistics show two names at the top: Chamberlain and Ricketts.
The tandem finished 1-2 in hits – Chamberlain with eight, Ricketts with seven. Chamberlain’s three homers led everyone, with Ricketts’ two tied with Texas’ Kim Bruins for No. 2. Ricketts’ six RBIs led everyone. Total bases showed Chamberlain with 24, Ricketts with 15; Bruins was a distant third with nine. Who scored the most runs for their team? Chamberlain, with seven.
In the circle, Ricketts’ 39 strikeouts in 31 innings led all pitchers.
As expected, Ricketts was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Softball is a team game, but without these two stars, OU does not win its first national championship since 2000.
At the conclusion of a brilliant career, where does Ricketts rank?
“She is the two-time national player of the year, so that puts her right up at the top, no question about it,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “She is very good and she is really a good person; she plays hard and doesn’t taunt or carry-on. She deserves all the accolades she has won.”
Tennessee senior Lauren Gibson, also an All-America caliber player, had nothing but praise for the Sooner left-hander.
“I played with Keilani on the U.S. National Team and she is definitely up there at the top with the best players,” Gibson said. “For me, [Ricketts] and Chelsea Thomas [of Missouri] have been the two hardest pitchers for me as a hitter. I think she ranks up there for sure.”
Weekly, a veteran of USA Softball, put this Sooner team among the greatest of all-time.
“I spent nine years with USA Softball, our national team and that Oklahoma team would have beaten most of the other countries we played,” Weekly said.
Big 12 conference and national opponents will be happy to see the 2012 and 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finish her eligibility. Chamberlain, on the other hand, will be back to give pitchers nightmares for two more seasons.
Chamberlain’s numbers through two seasons are unreal. As a rookie, she hit 30 homers and knocked in 78 runs. In 2013, she belted 30 homers with 84 RBIs. Might the Sooner slugger challenge UCLA’s Stacy Nuveman, who holds the NCAA record for career home runs with 90?
“She is an outstanding player, and is going to keep getting better,” Gasso said earlier in the tournament. “She is going to set some records with her bat.”
Trying to sum up Ricketts’ influence on her program, Gasso had no problem comparing the Californian with the greats.
“I can’t compare her to anybody; being able to work with her everyday makes me know her a little bit more,” Gasso said. “To me, she is one of the greatest of all time in this sport. This kid has been living with that for a long time, and it has been wearing on her, but now – addressing Ricketts in the post-game press conference – you are.”
What perhaps makes Ricketts and Chamberlain even more special? Their deflection of praise to teammates.
Instead of the nation’s top player, Gasso went with senior Michelle Gascoigne in the circle with a national championship in the air.
“Michelle [Gascoigne] has had success all year long,” Ricketts said. “She has thrown some great games and we wouldn’t be in this game without her. It means a lot, because she has been such a great teammate for us; she has been such a great leader.”
Said Chamberlain of a group of seniors she will be without in 2014.
“This class had a big part as to why I went to the University of Oklahoma, and I thank them for that,” Chamberlain said. “You guys are so awesome, you have changed the face of this program.
“I am going to hold it down for you.”
Spoken like a pair of real leaders.