Monday, June 4, 2012
Updated: June 5, 12:15 PM ET
Sooners roll in WCWS finals Game 1
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jessica Shults got to the Women's College World Series once before. An illness kept her from being the power-hitting, run-producing menace Oklahoma knows her to be.
Given a second chance, Shults is showing how much damage she can do.
Shults drove in two runs, Keilani Ricketts struck out 12 in a five-hitter and the Sooners beat Alabama 4-1 on Monday night in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series finals.
Shults was a shell of herself at last year's World Series after she was diagnosed with panulcerative colitis late in the season. She had hit 19 home runs but lost more than 20 pounds and was feeling especially fatigued. The Sooners ended up dropping their first two games in Oklahoma City and were eliminated.
Shults came back healthy this season and provided the go-ahead two-run double in Oklahoma's 5-3 victory against defending champion Arizona State on Sunday to get back to the championship round for the first time since winning the school's only NCAA title in 2000.
In Game 1 of the championship series, she tied the game at 1 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth and tacked on an RBI single an inning later.
"It's just been an honor, honestly, just being back with my teammates and being back on the field, just playing the game that I love," Shults said. "They picked me all up last year and it was an awesome experience to get here and be a part of it. And this year to have the opportunity to play is just a dream come true."
The fourth-seeded Sooners (54-8) had 11 hits, the second-most allowed by Jackie Traina (40-3) this season, to win their 12th straight game and snap the Crimson Tide's 11-game win streak.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Tuesday night.
"This team is just so confident right now," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "They just feel it and it's a pleasure to be around them because I have never been so calm and confident and cool and thinking straight in such a big arena, because of them."
Traina scored Alabama's only run on Kendall Dawson's sacrifice fly in the fourth, but then couldn't hold onto the 1-0 lead.
After Shults' sacrifice fly, Oklahoma went ahead to stay on Brianna Turang's run-scoring grounder and then scored twice in the sixth.
"I know they're a great ballclub. I just wasn't putting it where I needed to put it," Traina said. "Tomorrow's a new day. I've just got to recoup, start over, flush it."
No. 2 seed Alabama (58-8) is trying to become the first Southeastern Conference school to win the championship in a sport dominated by Pac-12 teams, which have won 23 of the 30 NCAA softball crowns.
The Sooners were all over Traina from the start but stranded eight runners through the first four innings, getting nothing out of back-to-back singles and a sacrifice to start the second or a bases-loaded situation with two outs in the fourth.
It wasn't until after Alabama broke through against Ricketts that Oklahoma got on the board.
Traina led off the bottom of the fourth with a sharp single to left, then moved up when Ricketts hit Cassie Reilly-Boccia on her back foot with a pitch and then bounced in a wild pitch. Traina scored standing up when right fielder Erica Sampson's throw drifted up the third-base line.
But after rounding the bases, Traina issued a leadoff walk to Lauren Chamberlain and Ricketts -- who's also the cleanup hitter -- followed with a single, moving up to second as Chamberlain beat the throw to third. Shults then lofted a fly ball to center to open the floodgates as the Sooners finally turned all those hits into runs.
"One of the best things for this team is when you score first on them. ... I know we left a lot of runners on base -- I get that question a lot -- but I have no panic and I don't have any fear because I know that they will come through.
"When you score on us we want to score right back and we did that in a very fine fashion and we just got a lot of confidence from it and kept going."
Katie Norris dropped down a squeeze after Shults' RBI single, and Ricketts race in to score and add to her all-around performance. In addition to bumping her strikeout total to 52 in 28 World Series innings, the 6-foot-2 lefty had a single, reached on an error to help produce another run, stole a base and then
"When you pinch run for her (earlier in the game), you don't think that you're going to squeeze with her at third base, but they did," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
"A much better athlete than I expected in terms of running. She's a big kid and swings a hard bat, a great pitcher but here base-running and her other attributes kind of took center stage."