May 28, 2010

By Jim Whiting
Special to

SEATTLE - The 14th-seeded Oklahoma Sooners shocked the third-ranked and defending national champion Washington Huskies, 6-1, in Thursday's opening Super Regional game, bashing five home runs against reigning Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie.

The game was billed as a pitching duel, with national ERA leader (0.94) Lawrie (38-2) of Washington facing Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts (31-8), whose 1.19 ERA was seventh overall and second among the 16 remaining teams.

Ricketts lived up to her end of the bargain, throwing a two-hit complete game while striking out eight and not allowing a ball out of the infield until two were out in the seventh inning.

The teams will play the second game of this best-of-three series on Friday at 5:30 p.m. If needed, a third game will follow.

"We didn't compete today as hard as we could," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "We need to play with our hair on fire. I trust the leadership on this team. We're gonna play forward."

The Sooners came into the game as perhaps the tournament's hottest team, having won 14 consecutive. The last Sooner loss came on April 15 when they dropped 9-7 and 7-6 home decisions to Texas Tech. Nine of their succeeding wins came via shutout and they allowed solo tallies in the other five while plating 77 runs of their own during the streak.

The win reversed the outcome of the teams' only previous meeting this year, when the Huskies snapped an eight-game Oklahoma winning streak with 7-4 win in February while hitting three home runs off Ricketts and scoring six runs against her.

"The win didn't surprise me," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said, "the way we did it against one of the nation's best pitchers did."

Sooner career home run hitter Amber Flores gave an early indication it might not be Lawrie's night when she sent a towering drive over the PAC-10 logo on the left-field wall with one out for her 54th homer. An out later, catcher Lindsey Vandeveer slapped a single into right field. She stole second, and easily scored when catcher Shawna Wright's errant throw bounced into the dirt and rolled all the way to the wall.

With two outs in the third, Flores launched another bomb in virtually the same place, this one traveling even further.

Flores, whose three home runs were a Sooner single-game record, credited a talk with Gasso after the regional in Maryland with her success. "I'd been struggling of late," she said. "Coach told me to play looser. Her coaching also helped me prepare for her [Lawrie's] speed."

Gasso added, "She'd been carrying a heavy load, overswinging and trying too hard. I told her to do things on her own terms and her team would support her. And I think that last ball [in the seventh inning] was a homer."

Ricketts cruised through the first three innings, retiring all nine batters, including four by strikeout. Jenn Salling broke up the perfect game with one out in the fourth with a bouncer just to the left of second base. Shortstop Karolyne Long made a diving stop but couldn't get the ball out of her glove. Lawrie followed with a walk, and the runners advanced on Wright's groundout on the right side. But Niki Williams fanned on a 3-2 pitch.

The Sooners No. 9 hitter, third baseman Dani Dobbs, extended the lead to 4-0 with a home run to left to lead off the fifth inning. The homer was her fourth of the season. An out later, Flores scorched a long drive into the seats in right-center field for the fourth Oklahoma long ball of the game. Jessica Shults, who had hit a three-run homer in the teams' first meeting, followed immediately with yet another home run, this one to dead center, and her 15th of the season.

Hooch Fagaly led off the home half with a walk, but was erased on a double play.

Baily Harris took the mound for the Huskies in the sixth inning.

Flores provided final-inning excitement with her longest drive of the evening, which curved foul at the last moment. She walked as the Huskies finally figured out a way of keeping her from hitting yet another bomb. Third baseman Morgan Stuart provided one of the few Husky highlights by erasing Flores at third and then firing to first for a double play with the bases loaded and one out.

The Huskies scored an unearned run in the seventh on an error, base on balls (Ricketts' third) and RBI ground single to left by Taylor Smith.