OKLAHOMA CITY – Without question, the Oklahoma is the favorite entering the 2013 Women’s College World Series.
The Sooners, making the program’s eighth WCWS appearance and in search of its first national title since 2000, have mind-numbing statistics.
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Oklahoma has won 51 of 55 games played in 2013. Its .338 team batting average ranks third in the NCAA. Coupled with a 1.16 team earned run average, the top standard in the country, and head coach Patty Gasso’s group will be a tough out during the double-elimination tournament at Hall of Fame Stadium.
Producing those statistics is a group of stars that has the experience of playing for a national championship in 2012 — OU lost to Alabama in the best-of-three championship series.
In the circle, senior Keilani Ricketts has been dominant. The left-handed fireballer tossed her 16th shutout of the season in last weekend’s two run-rule thrashings of Texas A&M. Ricketts’ 1.22 ERA ranks eighth in the country and she has recorded the sixth-most strikeouts per nine innings of all NCAA pitchers. Michelle Gascoigne, another senior, has been equally impressive. Her .92 ERA is No. 1 in the country and she ranks fourth in strikeouts per nine innings.
Gasso’s girls do not just flourish in the circle.
Lauren Chamberlain, just a sophomore, has smashed 27 home runs, knocked in 79, and leads the nation in runs scored. A first basemen, Chamberlain ranks second in the country in on-base percentage at .623. She hits a salty .463.
Sophomore Shelby Pendley has 22 homers and 73 RBIs. Senior Brianna Turang is hitting .421. Senior Jessica Shultz is an All-Big 12 catcher. And on, and on, and on.
“This is really, truly an all-around balanced team in every area,” said Gasso, whose squad has outscored its postseason opponents 59-8, with four of the five games ending by run-rule. “It’s going to be very difficult to beat this team.”
And that was before an F5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20, located minutes from the OU campus. Now, with an entire state still early in the healing process, softball, and the No. 1-ranked team in the country, will hope to add to some of that recovery with a diversion.
“Usually we say that we’re playing for the name on the front of our jersey,” Ricketts said. “That name has a different meaning to it now.”
Seven programs will certainly not be conceding anything when play starts on Thursday.
Ellen and Ivy Renfroe led Tennessee by 2012 WCWS champion Alabama last weekend. It pushed the Lady Volunteers (49-10) into the final eight for the sixth time in nine years. The Renfroe sisters, from Jackson, Tenn., are a combined 38-8 in the circle in 2013. Speedy Raven Chavanne (.468) and Lauren Gibson (.407) lead a potent Tennessee offense that averages almost seven runs per contest. Gibson is the Southeastern Conference Player of Year with 18 homers and 66 RBIs.
Tennessee opens the week against fellow SEC foe Florida (57-7). The Gators, the No. 2 seed behind Oklahoma, won the rugged SEC regular-season title and followed that by winning the SEC tournament. A pair of one-run wins against Alabama-Birmingham in the super regional pushed Florida to the WCWS for the fifth time in six years. Hannah Rogers is 33-5 in the circle with a 1.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 255.1 innings this season. Lauren Haeger is a solid No. 2 at 15-2 with 111 strikeouts in 115 innings. Haeger, a sophomore from Arizona, has provided a .335 batting average, 18 homers and 70 RBIs. Kelsey Stewart, a freshman from Wichita, Kan., leads the team with a .386 batting average. Head coach Tim Walton’s Gators have just two seniors on the roster.
Arizona State, WCWS champions in 2011, brings another solid team to Oklahoma City — the 11th in program history and seventh under head coach Clint Myers. The Sun Devils (50-10) beat Kentucky last weekend and have talented junior Dallas Escobedo (30-4, 2.16 ERA) in the circle. She has 91 career victories, including a 37-3 record during ASU’s championship 2011 season.
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Amber Freeman and Cheyenne Coyle have provided pop at the plate, combining for 38 homers and 127 RBIs for a team that hits a stellar .338.
ASU will face off with Texas on Thursday. Senior pitcher Blaire Luna willed the Longhorns by Florida State last week, tossing a no-hitter in the clinching game. In 29 innings this postseason, Luna, a native of Austin, Texas, is 4-0 with a .97 ERA. For the season, the right-handed Luna is 30-4 with a razor-thin 1.16 ERA. Taylor Hoagland leads the Texas offense with a .433 batting average and a .615 on-base percentage. Her 14 homers is one behind team leader Taylor Thom. Four Texas players have at least 20 stolen bases — Brejae Washington leads with 31 in 35 attempts.
2013 marks the first time since 2006 Texas has advanced to the final eight.
Washington, a No. 11 seed, and Nebraska, at No. 14, were not necessarily expected to be in Oklahoma City; they meet in the first game on the first day of the tournament. The Huskies (43-15) beat sixth-seeded Missouri in a super regional, while the Huskers (45-14) beat Oregon last weekend to advance to the WCWS for the first time since 2002.
Freshman right-hander Emily Lockman pitched the decisive game for Nebraska last weekend, and has teamed with the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Tatum Edwards to give 21st-year head coach Rhonda Revelle a solid 1-2 punch. Washington, national champion in 2009, also has a good 1-2 punch in the circle with Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryanna Walker allowing just two total runs in the postseason.
The final piece to the eight-team puzzle is Michigan, a team with just four seniors. The Wolverines (50-11) won the NCAA title in 2005 and return for the first time since ’09. Freshman shortstop Sierra Romero has hit 22 home runs and senior Ashley Lane, who starred in both super regional wins against Louisiana-Lafayette, has 18. The two have combined for 129 RBIs. Nine players have at least 20 RBIs and scored 20 runs for Michigan in 2013. A pair of sophomores, Sara Driesenga (30-7, 1.75 ERA) and Haylie Wagner (19-3, 2.50), lead the Michigan pitching staff.
The Wolverines will get the first crack at Oklahoma. They meet the top-seeded Sooners in Thursday’s final game.