OU moves on to regional title

NORMAN, Okla. —The Sooners are a victory away from their fourth straight Super Regional, as they knocked off the second-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks 10-5 in Saturday afternoon's winner's bracket game at Marita Hynes Field to advance to Sunday's regional final.

But they had to fight to get there.

Leading 6-1 in the sixth, the Razorbacks put together a four-run inning that could've even been worse had head coach Patty Gasso not made the move she did.

Gasso inserted fellow senior pitcher Michelle Gascoigne in in starter Keilani Ricketts' relief with runners at second and third and two out for Arkansas.

Gascoigne was brilliant, striking out three-hole hitter Chloe Oprzedek to preserve the lead and make her coach look like a genius.

"It was a really tough situation," Gasso said. "They had the go-ahead run at second base and, yeah, Michelle just came in and was just kinda sitting and waiting. You know, Coach [Melyssa] Lombardi and I talked about how long we wanted to go with Ricketts. And the matchups matched up well for Keilani, but they just started touching her too much.

"When they brought in that big kid [Andrea Sullivan] that hit the home run is when we started to think, but we wanted to see how far we could get with this. And we might have waited one or two hitters too long, but Michelle bailed us out."

She did so in just three pitches to back up her teammate who recorded the win despite getting shelled for five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

"She worked hard today, you know, in the heat," said Gascoigne, who picked up her third save of the year. "She kept us in the game the whole time, so I wanted to finish the job for her."

Ricketts was certainly relieved she did.

"It was definitely huge with Michelle getting that strikeout and our team definitely fed off that and that brought us momentum into getting those [four] runs," Ricketts said.

The runs she's referring to came as a loud response to Arkansas' top half of the sixth.

OU answered with an RBI double from right fielder Callie Parsons and a massive bases-clearing double off the bat of first bseman Lauren Chamberlain, who finished with her second consecutive five-RBI day.

"Just coming back to what Coach said about Javen [Henson], keeping that alive and all with two outs, the bottom of our lineup huge for me," Chamberlain said. "Gives me the confidence going up there. Just I've been seeing the ball well, pretty good, and just trying to keep things alive for my team again. Just sat on the changeup and did my thing."

That gave the Sooners a comfortable enough lead Gascoigne could then polish off in the seventh.

Just like Friday, they didn't waste any time taking control early.

After Ricketts escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first, she helped her own cause with an RBI single plating Chamberlain, who reached by virtue of an error.

Designated player Brittany Williams followed with an RBI single of her own to make it 2-0.

Williams, moments after a quick conversation with Gasso, picked up her second RBI of a perfect 3-for-3 day in the third when she blasted a bomb over the right center wall to put OU up three.

"Hit it out or else I will pull you," Gasso joked of the exchange. "I needed Keilani to get a rest, and the inning was happening really fast so I just kinda sat there and spoke gibberish until the umpire told me to stop and just trying to buy time. That's all we were doing."

Arkansas finally got on the board in the fourth on right fielder Amanda Geile's solo shot to right.

The Sooners, though, quickly got that run back as Ricketts this time worked a bases-loaded walk.

A pair more of runs in the fifth—those came on a single from Chamberlain—seemingly put it away, but the Razorbacks rallied back.

Sullivan's two-run shot, then shortstop Clarisa Navarro's two-RBI double up the middle trimmed the lead to 6-5.

With the victory, the Sooners will now face the winner of tonight's Arkansas-Fordham/Marist game at 1 p.m. CT Sunday.

They'll need just one victory to advance to the next round.

"Winning the first game is important because it puts you in a nice place, but winning this game sets you up big time and that's very important," Gasso said. "That's why we knew the fight was important. We walk away. We get rest. We get out of the heat, get hydrated and come back and know not only do we get to play one, but if we need to, we have that safety net.

"But this team is gonna be focused on just getting it done from the start. So, it's a huge advantage. We have a huge advantage right now. We need to make the most of it."

They'll know their opponent for that challenge in a matter of a few hours.

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