Late Sooner Magic keys OU to 1-0 title lead

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Sooners still need one more game, but it might not be too early to call it destiny.

Down three runs after Tennessee gut-punched them with a three-spot on a smash in the top of the 11th, OU rallied for three runs of their own, then slugger Lauren Chamberlain, as she's done 29 other times this season, delivered a jack.

Only this time it was a little bit bigger.

National championship big.

Chamberlain stepped in and smashed the first pitch she saw just inside the left field foul for a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th to give OU a 1-0 series lead over the Volunteers in this best-of-three championship finals.

"On my way to first, I was watching to see if it was foul or fair, and I was like praying that it was fair," Chamberlain said. "As soon as I saw it was fair and just seeing the crowds reaction and my teammates going nuts at home, I really couldn't believe it. It was awesome."

Given the situation, what's really surprising is the fact that Tennessee elected to pitch to Chamberlain and not walk her with first base open.

A .456 hitter heading into the contest even though she came into the bat just 1-for-5 on the night.

"We had walked I think three or four people, and we did consider it, obviously," said Tennessee head coach Ralph Weekly. "When she came up, we did consider it. We felt like we could get her out, but obviously we were wrong. We felt like where we had been going most of the night, and it hadn't been the same way every time, but she's just a great player. No question, just a great player. If there was, it's my fault we didn't walk her."

A crushing defeat for the Vols, a title-like win for the Sooners.

And as clutch as the game-winning shot was, the rally OU put together in the 11th was even more clutch.

Designated player Brittany Williams ripped an RBI double to right center, then twice down to one strike in consecutive at bats, center fielder Destinee Martinez and right fielder Callie Parsons came up with run-scoring hits, Martinez's a triple, Parsons' a double.

Parsons' tied the game at three before she was thrown out at third.

"I really don't even know what to say," said OU head coach Patty Gasso. "That was one of the most amazing comebacks I've ever seen. I can't imagine. I mean, it's nervous on the field, I can't imagine how people felt watching it. But this is a team on a mission, and, man, I've never seen anything like it."

That rally undoubtedly took the air out of Tennessee's sails, after it appeared the other way around.

In the top half, the Vols had taken what seemed to be a safe 3-0 lead on shortstop Madison Shipman's homer in a game that had run scoreless until that point, but it was not to be.

Sooner ace Keilani Ricketts, who gave up the bomb and looked out of gas, came back in the 12th to polish off her victory with 13 strikeouts.

She gave up five hits and six walks.

"I was just trying to get my team in there, because I knew they were going to come around," Ricketts said. "Even if we hadn't come around in the first 10 innings, or 11—I don't know how many we went—I just believed in them, and that's what we had to do if we wanted to put ourselves in the best chance to succeed."

Tennessee ace Ellen Renfroe gave up her five earned runs on 10 hits and three walks, but six of those hits came over the final two innings.

She fanned equal as many batters as her OU counterpart.

"She was really spinning the ball," Chamberlain said. "I think it was kind of different where we were in the box. It just kind of threw us off a little bit for the first couple at bats and just trying to stay short on her spins."

The Sooners stranded a pair in both the third and fourth innings, or extras might not have been necessary.

In the first of those, they could have easily broken the seal.

Chamberlain hammered a double off the left center wall and left fielder Brianna Turang, who previously reached on a fielder's choice, raced from first around third but head coach Patty Gasso gave her the stop sign.

It appeared as if Turang could have sprinted home safely, as the cutoff had just reached the shortstop in shallow left; however, Gasso thought otherwise and OU ended up leaving two aboard a batter later.

But the Vols didn't put their first base runner on until the top of the fifth.

Sooner catcher Jessica Shults erased her on a snap throw down to first that helped snuffed a potential Tennessee rally.

Still, Ricketts put herself into a bit of a jam, walking two more—she gave free passes to the first three batters in the inning—but she got out of it with a huge 1-4-3 double play.

As exhibited by that, the dual pitcher duel kept the game neck-and-neck, even sent the team thought to be the overwhelming favorite to win it all to extras for a grinder.

"It was such a match up for the ages," Gasso said. "I thought, again, it's the best game I've ever been a part of. To be on this side and to see how this all transpired is something that right now I can't remember, but I will never forget. If that makes sense."

The Vols had a major chance to take the lead with the game's first run in the eighth courtesy of an error by shortstop Jessica Vest.

Ricketts, however, buckled down and recorded a strikeout before inducing an L-6 to end the frame.

Tennessee escaped an even bigger jam in the bottom of the ninth.

OU had the sacks jacked with just one out, but Renfroe forced a 3-2 putout at the plate and struck out Sooner center fielder Destinee Martinez to squash the threat.

Now, just one victory away from its second national championship, OU will try to do what it was unable to last year and that's win one of two games after capturing the first.

"This is a team on a mission, and, man, I've never seen anything like it," Gasso said.

First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

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