espnW: Keilani Ricketts
With No. 2 Alabama seeking to become the first SEC team to win a softball national championship and No. 4 Oklahoma seeking to become just the fifth school with multiple national championships, let's look at how the series breaks down in key areas. The teams were scheduled to play in February but a rainout means this will be their first meeting this year.
Pitching: The speed limit on Oklahoma's interstates is 70 mph, and other than some changeups, both Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts and Alabama's Jackie Traina will spend the championship series throwing pitches that might get ticketed on the open road. Dominant all postseason, Ricketts showed she wasn't invincible in giving up three runs against Arizona State on Sunday, but she still struck out 13 and got the win. The 6-foot-2 southpaw is hard on lefty slappers, which could be a problem for an Alabama team that relies on two good ones at the top of its order. Traina pitched probably her best game in a couple of weeks to shut down California on Sunday, as might be expected of a sophomore who seems to love pressure, but she did walk six more batters to give her 14 walks in 21 innings in the World Series. Against an Oklahoma team that can turn a walk into a two-run home run in the blink of an eye, that's potentially dangerous.
Power: Only two teams slugged better than .400 through the first four days of play in the World Series, and it’s no coincidence they are the only two teams with more games to play. Both the Sooners and Crimson Tide have hitters up and down the lineup who can drive the ball out of the park. No part of any batting order in the nation is scarier than Oklahoma’s trio of Lauren Chamberlain, Ricketts and Jessica Shults, who have 63 home runs between them this season, but outside of its two slappers, Oklahoma’s entire order has power. Kaila Hunt and Amanda Locke give Alabama plenty of firepower if these teams want to scrap the game and settle things with a home run derby. It's not quite Oklahoma's trio, but Hunt, Locke and Traina combined for 50 home runs this season.
Speed: With 65 stolen bases in 61 games, Oklahoma isn’t sedentary, but the Sooners aren’t running much in the World Series. With power like they possess in the middle of the lineup, there’s little reason to risk running themselves out of a big inning when speedsters like Destinee Martinez and Brianna Turang can take an extra base on a double or trot home ahead of a teammate’s home run. Alabama’s modest numbers on the bases thus far, with two stolen bases in four attempts, are more surprising. Kayla Braud and Jennifer Fenton combined for 84 stolen bases in the regular season, and their ability to disrupt opponents on the bases is a big part of Alabama’s offense.
Defense: Alabama’s defense was a question mark entering the World Series (for reasons of consistency more than ability), but the team with the second-most errors entering the start of play finds itself first in fielding percentage entering the final series. The Crimson Tide have committed two errors in 21 innings in Oklahoma City, compared to four in the same number of innings for Oklahoma. Alabama’s Courtney Conley is a significant asset at third base and the outfield of Braud, Fenton and Jazlyn Lunceford can shrink the gaps considerably against Oklahoma’s power. Like Tennessee with Monica Abbott, Oklahoma isn’t used to fielding a lot of balls given Ricketts’ propensity for strikeouts. Both catchers, Shults and Alabama's Kendall Dawson, have good arms and likely will try to pick off runners.
Intangibles: Attendance records have been falling with regularity in recent years at the World Series, but it’s no coincidence that the numbers are reaching new heights this season with the Sooners around. Even with the Thunder locked in a tight series against the Spurs in the NBA Western Conference finals, Hall of Fame Stadium has drawn more than 9,000 fans to three different sessions, a mark that had been reached just once before. The final series will be louder and more crowded than ever before, and almost all of those voices and bodies will be rooting for the Sooners.