Sooners fall short of NCAA softball title
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An impromptu party in front of the dugout during a fourth-inning rain delay turned into a celebration that will last a long time for Alabama's softball team.
The Crimson Tide turned the 13-minutte delay into the momentum that propelled them to a four-run inning, the key in their 5-4 win over Oklahoma in the deciding game of their best-of-three NCAA championship series that ended early Thursday.
Jackie Traina threw a five-hitter and delivered a key RBI single, and Alabama became the first Southeastern Conference team to win an NCAA softball title. Alabama (60-8) is the first team from outside the Pacific-12 Conference to win the title since Michigan in 2005.
"It was a heck of a run for us," said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, who returned to the Crimson Tide last year just days after leaving Alabama to accept the head-coaching job at LSU. "It's a dream come true for everybody at Alabama.
"For us, I don't think it's sunk in yet. It's been a long time coming."
Alabama won the national title in its eighth trip to the Women's College World Series, succeeding where other SEC teams had failed. Alabama was the third SEC team to advance to the tournament's championship series.
"Who wouldn't want to be the first SEC team to win it?" Traina said. "That just makes it that much better."
Traina gave up three home runs -- two to Lauren Chamberlain, including one in the seventh inning -- but fanned her Oklahoma counterpart, Keilani Ricketts, to end a game delayed almost three hours at the start due to a steady rain Wednesday night.
"It wasn't our time," said Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso, who guided the Sooners to the 2000 national title. "We know that. We know when it's right. We'll be back and it will be ours.
"Although we didn't get what we wanted, it's an unbelievable journey that I will remember for the rest of my life."
Ricketts put Oklahoma (54-10) ahead in the second, curling a leadoff homer just inside the right-field foul pole. Chamberlain followed in the third with a two-out homer to left field to give the Sooners a 3-0 lead, but then more rain began falling and Ricketts suddenly began struggling. After throwing just 10 balls in the first three innings, she had 15 -- including four wild pitches -- in the fourth.
Kaila Hunt opened the fourth by singling to left for Alabama, then scored on three wild pitches. After the third one, Gasso complained to the umpires that Ricketts (37-9) couldn't properly grip the ball and they delayed the game -- over Murphy's protests.
During the break, Alabama players gathered in front of the dugout and led chants -- with each other and their fans -- until the delay ended.
"The camaraderie that we have, the 13 minutes seemed like two seconds," Alabama designated player Amanda Locke said. "Our team has so much fun together. I think that fueled a fire and from then on there was no stopping us."
When the game resumed, Locke delivered a two-out RBI single and Courtney Conley followed with a double to center field that tied the game. A throwing error by Oklahoma shortstop Jessica Vest allowed Jazlyn Lunceford to reach base and Conley to score, putting the Crimson Tide up 4-3.
Ricketts didn't want to use the rain as an excuse.
"Honestly, I just wanted to pitch through it," Ricketts said. "I wasn't really focused on the rain. I didn't realize it was affecting the way I was pitching, even though I was throwing a lot of wild pitches."
Traina (42-3) walked Chamberlain and hit Ricketts with a pitch with two outs in the fifth, but retired Jessica Shults on a fly ball that right fielder Lunceford caught at the wall. Alabama added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth as Jennifer Fenton reached on a leadoff bunt single and scored on Traina's RBI single to right field.
That run proved to be key.
Oklahoma's Destinee Martinez was called out for runner's interference in the seventh after colliding with an Alabama fielder inside the baseline. Chamberlain followed with a two-out, solo shot over the wall in right-center field that was her 30th of the season and the 102nd for the Sooners. Oklahoma was just the 17th team in NCAA Division I history to hit 100 or more homers in a season.
Oklahoma had won 12 straight games, including the opening game of the championship series, before losing two in a row. Ricketts struck out seven, raising her tournament total to 64, tying for third-best in Women's World College Series history.
Traina had six strikeouts to end the season with 361, an Alabama single-season record.