Arizona loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh innings, but Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts struck out Lini Koria on three pitches to finish off a 6-0 victory for the Sooners.
Ricketts threw a seven-hitter as OU won the first game of an NCAA Super Regional in Norman, Okla.
Ricketts (32-7) has won three in a row against the Wildcats, including two in last season’s Super Regional.
The second game of the best-of-three series begins at 9 a.m. Tucson time Saturday, with another game to follow, if necessary. The winner of the series advances to the Women’s College World Series.
Ricketts, one of three finalists for the national player of the year award, struck out seven and walked two on Friday.
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Another homer for the Sooners. This time, it’s pitcher Keilani Ricketts, who has now outscored Arizona all by herself.
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Arizona had its best chances early in the game, but couldn’t deliver the key hit — which is reminiscent of last season vs. Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts. ESPN keeps showing the stat that UA was 0 of 18 against her last season with runners in scoring position … so it must be true.
The Cats are still trying to push across a run but has a lot of ground to make up and little time to do it. The game is going to the bottom of the sixth, with OU up 5-0.
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Oklahoma pads its lead with a big, big fly from designated player Katie Norris, who takes a Shelby Babcock pitch deep over the fence in left. Sooners in control, 5-0, batting in the bottom of the fifth.
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Arizona running out of time. The Cats go in order in the top of the fifth and trail 4-0. The missing right-handed bat of Jessica Spigner (out with a back injury) hasn’t helped. UA’s three right-handers are 4 of 7 vs. lefty Keilani Ricketts. Arizona’s left-handers are 2 of 13.
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Same old story in the bottom of the third. Oklahoma scores again, but it could have been worse for Arizona. OU’s Javen Henson muscles a bloop hit just past the second base bag to drive in a run with the bases loaded, but Shelby Babcock gets the next two batters without allowing another run.
OU is up 4-0 and has twice left the bases loaded.
The game hasn’t gotten away from the Cats yet … but it’s getting close.
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Arizona has threatened in each of the first three innings vs. Keilani Ricketts, advancing a runner to second, but the Cats are 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. It is encouraging, though, that UA has had six base runners — five hits — through three innings. Now, they just have to get the key hit … assuming Shelby Babcock can keep the Sooners from getting too far away.
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The freebies are what Arizona’s pitching staff has tries to avoid, but Shelby Babcock hit three batters in the first two innings. Two of those hit batters came in the second inning, and then Babock walked dangerous Lauren Chamberlain on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two outs.
Babcock strikes out Keilani Ricketts to end the inning — a huge out — but she gave away a run that inning.
OU is up 3-0 after two.
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No surprise that Mike Candrea is going with Shelby Babcock as his starting pitcher. The coaching staff had a lot of trust in her late in the season, and Candrea said last weekend that she is pitching as well as anyone.
Can’t tell by the first inning, though, as Babcock hits the first batter of the game. After a bunt hit (when a bad defensive rotation left nobody covering first), OU super freshman Lauren Chamberlain drives in two runs with a double.
It was a relief for Arizona to never trail last weekend in regional play … now, the Cats are already in the bad position of playing catch-up vs. Keilani Ricketts.
Nice job by Babcock, though, to escape further damage. With Chamberlain on third with no outs, Babcock gets two pop-ups and a strikeout to end the inning.
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Arizona has something going in the top of the first with a pair of one-hit singles, but slow-moving Lini Koria grounded into a double play, started by pitcher Keilani Ricketts, who fired to third base for a force out … and then the throw to first got Koria.
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The day starts with bad news for Arizona, as first baseman Jessica Spigner is out of the lineup because of back problems.
Coach Mike Candrea moves catcher Lini Koria to first base, puts designated player Chelsea Goodacre at catcher and inserts slap-hitting lefty Nicole Bryan at designated player.
The Cats now have six left-handed batters vs. lefty pitcher Keilani Ricketts.
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The Arizona Wildcats softball team begins its Super Regional journey today as it begins a best-of-three series at Oklahoma.
The game begins at 11 a.m. Tucson time and will be shown on ESPNU. You can also watch it streaming on the internet at ESPN3.com.
We’ll be monitoring the game and providing updates and analysis right here in this post. In the meantime, here are five things to watch.
1. Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts
Well, yeah. Of course. She is one the nation’s elite players, with a 31-7 record, a 1.05 ERA and a team-best .406 batting average. If the Cats can’t solve this lefty, it will be over in a hurry.
“You have to get to Ricketts. There is no surprise there,” UA coach Mike Candrea said.
“The one thing with Ricketts is you can’t match power for power. You can’t be swinging from your hips and you can’t be in a pull mode. We need to be very, very selective in getting good pitches.”
The Cats indicated they want to try to stay on top of the pitch, put the ball on the ground and put pressure on the OU defense. Against Ricketts in the Super Regional last season, Arizona struck out too many times (20 in 14 innings), killing any potential rallies.
The Sooners knocked off the Wildcats in a Super Regional in Tucson last season, and the site of them celebrating at Hillenbrand still resonates with the players.
“I was thinking to myself that I never wanted that to happen again, and I’m glad we got the opportunity to play them again this year and get revenge,” said junior third baseman Brigette Del Ponte.
Candrea was downplaying the revenge angle.
“What happened is the past. That’s a completely different team that what is on the field right now,” he said. “I think we’re a much better team than we were at this time last year in just about every area.”
3. OU’s power
The middle of Oklahoma’s lineup features first baseman Lauren Chamberlain (26 home runs), Ricketts (15 homers) and catcher Jessica Shults (18 homers).
“The middle of the lineup is as good as anybody in the country,” Candrea said.
Arizona’s pitchers, having emphasized an attacking style late in the season, walked only two batters in three games in an NCAA regional last weekend. But that was against North Dakota State and Notre Dame. Throwing strikes to these hitters will be a much more dicey proposition.
4. Arizona’s bottom of the lineup
The move of Karissa Buchanan from No. 9 to the leadoff spot not only energized the top of the order and gave Arizona small-ball possibilities, it also deepened the lineup.
With first baseman Jessica Spigner now hitting seventh and second baseman Kristen Arriola hitting eighth — and both of them swinging a hot bat — the UA is dangerous at any time.
“We’re able to produce 1 through 9 in the order,” Candrea said. “I thought last year we had a huge hole down in the bottom of the order.”
It always comes back to this, doesn’t it? Arizona likely will need a two-pitcher approach, using sophomore Shelby Babcock and junior Kenzie Fowler. Candrea isn’t often comfortable with either going the distance, and wants to take advantage of their differing styles to keep OU off balance.
With the exception of the 1996 championship, Arizona has always rode an ace to its eight College World Series titles (Debby Day, Susie Parra, Nancy Evans, Jennie Finch, Alicia Hollowell, Taryne Mowatt). The Cats won’t be looking for shutouts this time around, but they need their pitchers to just give their bats a fighting chance.