Alabama evens WCWS Finals at one apiece

OKLAHOMA CITY — It won't be that easy for the Sooners to win their first softball National Championship in 12 years. The No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide forced a decisive game three with an 8-6 victory Tuesday evening at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

"Well, I think everybody, 20 players stuck to a plan that we decided to do this morning and everybody was locked in and ready to go," said Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy. "Couldn't be more proud of the team. This is what we've been working for. Me, for 16 yeras, but these guys for four years. I'm excited. I wish we could play right now."

After OU took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on catcher Jessica Shults' bloop RBI single into right center, the Tide got to work, scoring four runs on just one hit in the following inning.

Alabama plated its first run courtesy of a pair of errors by Sooner third baseman Javen Henson and a hit batsman, then another hit-by-pitch and walk set the table for the big blow of the inning.

Pitcher Jackie Traina cleared the bases with a double in the left center gap, making it 4-1.

The Crimson Tide put up another four-spot in the fourth en route to chasing Sooner starter Keilani Ricketts.

"Just could see that Keilani was laboring a little bit," said OU head coach Patty Gasso when asked on the reasoning for taking her ace out of the game. "I wanted to get her out and just get her rested and get her to get her mind right and help us with what she can do offensively and give Michelle [Gascoigne] a shot."

Gascoigne, who eventually settled down, surrendered another bases clearing double first, though.

This time it came off the bat of designated player Amanda Locke, who again laced one to the wall in left center, putting Alabama up a very comfortable seven runs.

"Just go out there and we have the bases loaded," Locke said. "Coach was like, 'Just do your thing.' We're working on shoring up and seeing the ball and getting a lot of changes lately, so I've kind of been sitting on that a little bit more.

"Had my eyes open for that a little more. She gave me one, I shortened up my swing and I stayed down on my legs and got it."

The Sooners, however, had a fight left in them.

They finally threatened in the final two innings, especially in the seventh, when they scored five runs to pull within two at 8-6.

The first four batters reached, as first baseman Lauren Chamberlain's RBI single finally cracked Traina's cord, scoring second baseman Destinee Martinez, who tripled to remain .500 in WCWS play.

Ricketts singled, then Shults pounded a three-run homer to right.

Left fielder Brianna Turang tripled and scored on an RBI groundout and it was a two-run game.

The threat stopped there, but it certainly got interesting in an inning Gasso said gives OU huge momentum heading into the final game.

"I think one of the greatest things that has happened in this tournament is what we did in the seventh 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."

Despite the five-run inning, the Sooners have to be kicking themselves at least a little bit for not taking advantage of situation with runners at second and third and nobody out the previous inning in which they came up empty.

All of this means the two will play a winner-take-all game starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the victor crowned as the 2012 National Champions.

Shults, who finished with a game-high four RBI on 2-for-3 hitting in OU's losing effort, said OU will be ready even after the setback in a potential clincher.

"We don't look at it as elimination," Shults said. "Just leaving it all on the field tomorrow. Knowing what we have is good enough to win. Tomorrow we go in knowing that she's [Traina] going to come back fighting again. Just go in with a game plan like we did in the seventh inning, and hopefully send a message from the first inning."

Traina, who led Alabama with three RBIs and two of their four hits--Locke also had three RBIs--said the Tide will be ready to follow through with the "finish it" motto on their wristbands as well.

"Today it's like it's not over yet," Traina said. "So, it's the perfect time to finish it right now. So, tomorrow's going to be the day."

It will be for one of these two teams.

As for tonight, it was the Tide's game, as Ricketts fell to 37-8 on the season, rising above a 1.00 ERA, while Traina got even with Ricketts in the best-of-three and improved to 41-3 overall.

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