Bama keeps title hopes alive
Posted: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 7:00 pm
By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It’s on the wall in the practice facility and in the dugout whenever Alabama plays. It’s right there in black and white on the players’ wrists, too.
With one game left to decide the NCAA softball championship, the Crimson Tide’s season-long mantra has reached its ultimate point.
Jackie Traina and Amanda Locke each had three-run doubles and Alabama forced a decisive third game in the Women’s College World Series finals by beating Oklahoma 8-6 on Tuesday night.
The trophy will be handed out after Game 3 tonight.
“It’s the perfect time to finish it right now,” Traina said. “Tomorrow’s going to be the day.”
Traina laced a double to the warning track in left-center field with two outs in the second inning, putting the second-seeded Crimson Tide up 4-1. They wouldn’t trail again.
Kaila Hunt added a sacrifice before Locke’s bases-clearing double in the fourth for the Crimson Tide (59-8), who are trying to become the first Southeastern Conference team to win the NCAA softball title.
“Everybody was locked in and ready to go. I couldn’t be more proud of a team,” said Patrick Murphy.
, who briefly left to coach LSU for a few days last June before having second thoughts and returning to Alabama.
“This is what we’ve been working for — me for 16 years but these guys for four years. I’m just excited. I wish we could play right now.”
Alabama and Tennessee each have 12 World Series wins, the most for any team that hasn’t won the championship.
The Crimson Tide lost twice last season when they were one win away from reaching the World Series finals, and sophomore Jordan Patterson came up with the idea for the FINISH IT slogan. The team put up a sign with a hand print that players slap as they leave the hitting facility each day. They also put a sign up in the dugout, even on the road, and had wristbands printed.
The national championship is all that’s left in front of them now.
“I think that would be the ultimate finishing it,” Murphy said.
The finish didn’t come easily in Game 2, though.
Jessica Shults hit a three-run home run during Oklahoma’s five-run rally in the seventh inning and finished with four RBIs. Erica Sampson’s run-scoring groundout got the Sooners (54-9) within two.
Traina (41-3) then struck out Javen Henson to end the game.
“Whether we won or lost, the message that we sent and the confidence we brought was probably one of the most proud moments I’ve had with this team and not quitting,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said.
“They scored five runs off of one of the best pitchers in the country, saying: ‘We’re going to be back tomorrow, we’re going to put it all out on the line.”’
Gasso said Oklahoma “gave away” too many opportunities. Four of the season-high six runs allowed by Keilani Ricketts (37-8) were unearned because of a pair of errors by Henson at third base in the second inning.
Ricketts also hit five batters with pitches, a career-high and World Series record, and walked another in 3 1-3 innings.
“For us to think that we would go in against Alabama and have it easy, we had another thing coming,” Gasso said. “We had to play better ball. We did not deserve to win that game.”
Alabama’s hitters crowded the plate and moved up in the box to limit the lefty’s pitch selection. Ricketts had never hit more than three batters with pitches in a game previously.
“My pitches were just running into them,” Ricketts said. “They were getting away from me. I’m just going to have to adjust those pitches to where they’re standing in the box now.”
Gasso said she thinks “a new day, new umpires, new everything, changes the whole landscape of everything.”
Hunt had only been hit by pitches twice all season before getting hit on the right forearm her first two times at the plate.
“It wasn’t part of the game plan, that’s for sure,” Hunt said. “I’ll take it, I guess. We had a game plan and I stuck with it, and I guess she just got a little too tight.”
In a reversal of Game 1, which Oklahoma won 4-1, it was Alabama that roared right back after allowing the first run of the game.
Locke, who reached on Henson’s fielding error, came in to score when Henson couldn’t catch a flip from shortstop Jessica Vest on Jennifer Fenton’s two-out chopper as Jazlyn Lunceford slid in head first. Ricketts then hit Hunt the second time, loading the bases before Traina cleared them with her liner to the track.
Locke made it 8-1 with her three-run double — also with two outs and also to left-center — off of reliever Michelle Gascoigne in the fourth.
Oklahoma provided some late excitement for a close-to-home contingent including football coach Bob Stoops and men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger that came out to see the Sooners try to win their second World Series championship.
But Traina said she never doubted she’d get out of it.
“I just had to step back, take a breather,” Traina said. “You know, finish it.”
Published in The Messenger 6.6.12