Win and you get a day of rest; lose and you must win three in a row to make it to the final round. A capacity crowd – standing room only – showed up at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City expecting the meeting between top ranked Cal and 4th rated Oklahoma to be a classic.
A classic it was – if you are a fan of Oklahoma and their All-American pitcher Keilani Ricketts. The lefthander from San Jose, California struck out a season high 16 and allowed just two Bears hits in the 3-0 victory. Ricketts closed out her 15th shutout of the season with her 31st complete game
The match-up of two of the nation’s best pitchers tested the teams early. Keilani Ricketts struck out the side in the bottom of the first for OU before the Sooners rallied with two outs in the top of the second against Jolene Henderson, Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year, on a walk and a hit. But Javen Henson struck out to end the frame.
Cal-Berkeley missed out on one of their best chances to get to NCAA Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts in the bottom of the second with a walk and infield hit before she struck out the final two batters to end the inning. Ricketts, a junior at Oklahoma and a member of Team USA, used her change-up to keep the Bears off stride throughout the night, finishing with 16 strikeouts and just two walks en route to the 2-hit win, her 7th straight in this post-season. She is 35-7 overall.
OU answered as they have much of this season – thanks to the bat of remarkable freshman Lauren Chamberlain. Georgia Casey walked and Destinee Martinez singled. Then the All-American first baseman Chamberlain, who is threatening school slugging marks after hitting a Big 12 and OU record 28 homers to date, doubled to give the Sooners the first lead of the game at 1-0. It gave Chamberlain 74 RBI on the season, just eight shy of the Sooners single season mark of 82 set by Samantha Ricketts, Keilani’s sister, in 2007.
The run proved to be enough as the Sooners won their ninth straight behind Ricketts’ third shutout of the NCAA playoffs. She has allowed just one earned run through her first seven post-season starts.
Oklahoma loaded the bases and threatened for more, but catcher Jessica Shults grounded into a 3-2 force out and Erica Sampson also grounded into a hard force play, as Bears shortstop Cheyenne Cordes’ throw just nailed a sliding runner at home. Briana Turang grounded out to the end the frame.
After Ricketts again struck out the side in the bottom of the third, OU added a run to ther total in the 4th when Ricketts walked with the bases loaded, but crafty pitching stymied OU and they left the bags full on Jessica Shults’ fly to center.
The Sooners’ leadoff hitter reached to start each of the first six innings yet OU stranded 10 runners through the first five. Australian born Georgia Casey homered to deep center to start the sixth and give the Sooners a 3-0 lead.
The Bears threatened for only the second time in the game in the bottom of the sixth when Jamia Reed reached on an error by firstbaseman Shults, stole second and moved to third on a runners interference. Valerie Arioto was intentionally walked and then stole second before Ricketts struck out Frani Echavarria and Jace Williams with two in scoring position to end the threat. A two out single in the ninth was wasted, as Briana Turang squeezed the final out on a fly ball to left.
OU now enjoys a day of rest awaiting their opponent in Sunday’s winners bracket. A victory there would move them into the best of three championship. They need to win only once Sunday to advance to the NCAA Championship series.