Oklahoma Sooners: Georgia Casey

Oklahoma City -- Oklahoma could be emerging as the favorite to win the Women’s College World Series. And Keilani Ricketts is the main reason.

The Sooners ace pitcher dominance continued on Friday night as she led OU to a 3-0 win over top-seeded California at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. Ricketts has been incredible during OU’s run through the NCAA Tournament, having allowed one earned run in six tournament games.

Turning point: When OU gave Ricketts the ball on the mound. She kept the Golden Bears off balance throughout the night and never faltered, even when Cal got runners in scoring positions. It was one of the best pitching performances of her career.

Player of the game: Ricketts. She struck out 16 batters and allowed just two hits in the victory. The USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, Ricketts added a bases-loaded walk to give the Sooners a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. She has struck out 27 batters and allowed five hits in 14 innings pitched in two WCWS games.

Unsung hero of the game: Georgia Casey. The freshman make her mark in her second WCWS game with a solo home run and two runs scored. She went 1 for 2 and walked twice from her leadoff position in OU’s lineup.

Stat of the game: .714. That was the Sooners' batting average leading off innings. OU was 5 for 7 hitting lead off against Cal, which created several scoring opportunities for the Sooners and they capitalized in the third and fourth innings, scoring one run in each inning.

Missed opportunities: OU left 10 runners on base in the victory but it didn’t matter thanks to Ricketts’ dominance and clutch pitching.

What it means: The Sooners are one win away from a berth in the WCWS championship series. OU will have Saturday off before playing at noon on Sunday needing one win to advance to the championship series.

Quotable: “I thought Keiliani was the best I had ever seen her.” -- OU head coach Patty Gasso

“They’re such a huge part of our team. They’re students of the game, students of hitting. They’re wonderful students who want to get better.” -- Gasso on freshmen Lauren Chamberlain and Georgia Casey

“I had my adrenaline going and I was hitting my spots.” -- Ricketts

“When pitchers have a good change ups, it’s about which team can adjust better.” -- Casey

Oklahoma could be looking at its best chance to win its first NCAA softball championship since the Sooners sealed the deal in 2000.

Lead by USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts, the Sooners play South Florida to open the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

Here are some things you should know about the Sooners' chances in the WCWS:

First-round opponent: South Florida earned a WCWS berth with a 2-1 Super Regional series win over Hofstra. The Bulls are led by Sara Nevins, who has a 1.03 ERA which ranks fourth in the NCAA. Thursday’s matchup between Nevins and Ricketts could be the best pitching matchup of the WCWS -- don’t expect a high-scoring affair.

USF’s 1.18 team ERA ranks them second in the NCAA behind OU. They knocked off No. 5-seed Florida in regional play before defeating Hofstra.

Biggest obstacle: If both teams win their first round game, OU would face top-ranked California in its second WCWS game. The Bears are 56-5 this season and are lead by Valerie Arioto, who excels at the plate and on the mound. And Golden Bears ace pitcher Jolene Henderson threw back-to-back shutouts against Washington in Super Regional action.

The Bears are considered the favorite as the No. 1 seed but the top four seeds in the tournament, including No. 4 OU, are in Oklahoma City.

Three reasons why the Sooners could win the title:

• Ricketts is a dominant force on the mound and she can change games with her bat as well. The Big 12 Player of the Year, Ricketts had an 0.99 ERA with 33 wins and 393 strikeouts. She is hitting .407 to lead the Sooners with a .558 on-base percentage and .841 slugging percentage.

• The Sooners have an explosive offense with Ricketts, Lauren Chamberlain and Jessica Shults leading the way. That trio finished 1-2-3 in the Big 12 in slugging percentage and Chamberlain led the conference in home runs (27), RBIs (71), runs scored (62) and slugging percentage (.869).

• Even though the Sooners have great pitching and power, they can still beat you by manufacturing runs. Brianna Turang and Destinee Martinez excel at getting on base and creating havoc with their speed. They help make OU one of the most complete teams in the field.

[+] EnlargeKeilani Ricketts
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma's 6-foot-2 star pitcher, Keilani Ricketts, will stand even taller in Sooners lore if she can lead them to their second title.
Three reasons why the Sooners might not win the title:

• Youth. Chamberlain and Georgia Casey are freshmen, so they’ll need to get comfortable quickly during their first experience in the WCWS . OU coach Patty Gasso spoke of Casey’s nerves during Super Regional-play so the Sooners will need both players to overcome any butterflies.

• Pac-12 dominance. Only two non-Pac 12 teams have won a NCAA softball title since 1999. The Sooners won in 2000 and Michigan won in 2004. Arizona State is the defending champion and have returned to Oklahoma City to defend their title.

• Defense. The Sooners made 46 errors this season and had four in their two wins over Arizona in super regional play. One error can decide a game in the WCWS so the Sooners will have to tighten up their defense to win a championship.

Quotable:

“Our team’s a lot deeper than last year. With the desire that we had last year and how deep we are this year with our lineup, I think that we are coming into the World Series stronger than we were.” -- Ricketts on this year’s team compared to last year’s squad.
Oklahoma is one win away from the Women’s College World Series. The Sooners defeated Arizona 6-0 on Friday afternoon to take command of the Norman Super Regional at OU Softball Complex. OU advances to the WCWS with a win on Saturday, while Arizona would have to win games 2 and game 3 to earn a WCWS berth.

Turning point: The Sooners got out of the first inning without allowing a run after a clutch third-to-first double play with two Arizona runners on base with one out. It was the only double play of the game. OU went on to score two runs in the bottom of the inning then controlled the game throughout.

Player of the game: Keilani Ricketts. The Sooners starting pitcher scored more runs than she gave up. She pitched a complete game shutout and added a home run in the sixth inning. The junior allowed seven hits while striking out nine batters. Ricketts secured her 32nd win (32-7 overall record) and 16th home run in the victory.

Unsung hero of the game: Lauren Chamberlain. After Georgia Casey and Destinee Martinez got on base to start the game, the freshman’s two-run double in the first inning set the tone for the Sooners. OU scored in five of its six innings and the first was OU’s lone multiple-run inning. She was 1 for 3 and had three of OU’s six RBIs in the game.

Stat of the game: Zero Arizona runs. It was Ricketts' second-straight shut out and she has allowed just one run in three games since the NCAA tournament began.

Missed opportunity: Arizona left 10 runners on base in its loss. The Wildcats left runners on base in the first three innings, while the Sooners put up four runs in the same span.

What it means: The Sooners are one win away from a berth in the Women’s College World Series. OU appears to be peaking at the right time having won seven straight games.

Quotable: “Lauren opening it up with a hard shot to left center, set the tone. It was very important that we came out fast.” -- OU softball coach Patty Gasso.

“In my eyes, she’s probably one of the best pitchers in the country right now.” -- Arizona coach Mike Candrea on Ricketts.

“I just wanted to come up big for them, they worked so hard to get on.” -- Chamberlain on her two-run double after Casey and Martinez got on base with no outs in the first inning.

“They got runners on [base] every inning, it was tough getting out of those situations but the defense came up with key plays.” -- Ricketts on holding the Wildcats scoreless despite several scoring threats.

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