Through six innings of Game Two of the Women's College World Series Tuesday night, the Oklahoma Sooners softball team had been completely stymied by Alabama pitcher, Jackie Traina.
The Sooners had collected just four hits and one run, and their own star pitcher, national player of the year Keilani Ricketts, had been pulled with one out in the fourth inning, after hitting a Women's College World Series record five batters in her time on the mound.
The Sooners were, in a word, reeling.
"This was a very uncharacteristic game for us," OU head coach Patty Gasso said. "The amount of opportunities that we gave away that we needed to make a team like Alabama work for a little bit harder."
Despite the 8-1 deficit the Sooners faced going to their last at-bat in the seventh inning, Oklahoma showed it wouldn't lay down for anyone, collecting five runs on five hits, including a three-run home run from Jessica Shults.
With the final at-bat rally, the Sooners established a lot of momentum going into tonight's final game, a winner take all affair for a national championship.
"I feel like that seventh inning was a spark going into tomorrow," Shults said. "That's what we've been doing all year. We have to go in with that same mentality that we went into the 7th inning with, and hopefully it happens for us."
Ricketts didn't attribute her poor performance to fatigue or soreness, but rather, an inability to generate any momentum for her team.
I don't think any fatigue or soreness was getting to me," Ricketts said. "That is the pitcher's role is to get those clutch outs for your team to keep them in the ballgame, not give the other team any momentum by hitting too many batters or walking them."
Lauren Chamberlain said the mental side of losing 8-6 instead of being thumped 8-1 is a big boost for the Sooners as they look ahead to Wednesday night's game.
"It gives us momentum going into (Wednesday), and it gives us the excitement to come out on top first," Chamberlain said. "We knew we were hitting the ball hard, so we're just ready to hopefully face (Jackie) Traina again tomorrow and take it home."
Gasso had nothing but praise for how the team handled the loss after the game, saying the team took ownership of the loss, and would be back to fight another day.
"I think one of the greatest things that has happened in this tournament is what we did in the 7th inning tonight," Gasso said. "Whether we won or lost, the message that we sent, and the confidence we brought is probably one of the most proud moments I've had with this team in not quitting."
The Sooners will need every bit of that fight when they face the Crimson Tide in tonight's final game. The program's second national championship is on the line, and that is not something the Sooners are going to let Alabama just take from them.
They'll fight for it until the end.
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