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Oklahoma Dominates Bryant To Open NCAA Tournament

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Normally, when you poke a sleeping giant, you're going to an aggressive response.

NCAA tournament newcomer Bryant found that out Friday night, as defending national champions Oklahoma responded to a surprising early blow from the Bulldogs to run-rule Bryant, 14-4 in five innings.

The Bulldogs promised to compete in the Norman Regional and they took advantage of a "jittery" Kelsey Stevens in the second inning. After striking out the side in the first, Stevens walked the bases loaded with one out in the second, before Bryant catcher Kendall Corder planted a Stevens pitch in the left-centerfield bleachers for a 4-2 Bryant lead.

"I was proud of them," Bryant coach Shayne Lotito said. "We had told them to swing hard and make sure they attacked their pitches. That's what they were doing so it was good to see our offense come out swinging."

Oklahoma wasn't going to allow the Bulldogs to spoil things this early in the quest to defend their national championship. The Sooners erupted for eight runs on seven hits in the bottom of the second, including a three-run home run from Shelby Pendley to bust the game wide open and calm the anxious partisan crowd.

"We've had people score on us, so we were automatically thinking come back, get out of this inning and go get our own runs," OU catcher Whitney Ellis said.

Ellis put the game out of reach in the bottom of the third inning, hitting a towering fly ball to left field that cleared the fence just out of the reach of Bryant leftfielder Kristen Carter for a three-run blast that made the score 14-4 in favor of the Sooners.

The Sooners' dominance can be seen with just a quick look at the box score. Every OU player got a hit and seven of them drove in at least one run. Destinee Martinez went 3-for-3 from the plate while Pendley went 4-for-4. Brittany Williams drove in three runs and had two hits.

The Sooners finished with 18 hits for the game and did so without All-American Lauren Chamberlain, who wasn't in the lineup due to the partially torn PCL she suffered last Saturday against Oklahoma State.

"She was out for a little while so it wasn't anything different," Pendley said. "We knew we could do it without her. It's nice to have her in the lineup, but we knew we could handle it."

OU coach Patty Gasso said she is "more than hopeful" Chamberlain will play on Saturday, when the Sooners take on Texas A&M at 1 p.m. Gasso said the 23 games Chamberlain missed earlier in the year with a back injury helped prepare the Sooners to be able to have offensive showings like Friday night's without her.

"I think it's extremely helpful that we've learned how to play without her," Gasso said. "It's taking a big piece of your offense out and I think if this just happened all of a sudden, there might be a whole different feeling. I think it's really readied us."

Not only were the Sooners without Chamberlain's bat, but the lack of her on the field caused Gasso to put junior Jessica Vest in right field for the first time in her life. Vest handled it well, taking care of the only ball hit her way along with collecting a hit and an RBI.

The outburst in the bottom of the second inning helped calm Stevens down, but Gasso said the nerves Stevens showed in her first postseason appearance were to be expected for a young player.

"This is a new experience for her in our program and she doesn't want to disappoint," Gasso said. "I've seen this from quite a few athletes. Shelby went through it last year. We have a few that understand our expectations and want to be so great. She doesn't have to change one thing that she's been doing."

Stevens finished by giving up just three hits and three walks while striking out five batters. Pendley finished the game by working the fifth inning, striking out two batters.

The Sooners were pushed Friday night, but they responded like champions do. They pushed back. With Chamberlain returning to the lineup on Saturday, the Sooners become a more dangerous team, one ready to respond to any punch thrown their way.

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