Why They'll Win: Tenn. vs. Okla.
|TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS||OKLAHOMA SOONERS|
It may be Tennessee's time.
Under co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly, women's softball in Knoxville has become a powerhouse. It is only a matter of time before the program wins its first national title.
In twelve seasons running the program, the Weeklys have brought the Volunteers to the Women's College World Series six times. In 2007, UT advanced to the championship series and won the first game behind the left arm of Monica Abbott. Arizona battled back to win the next two games, however, and kept Tennessee from claiming top honors.
"I don't really remember that, it's been a long time ago," said Ralph Weekly. "I do remember how amazing it was; I am so excited for our players to get to experience it because all of America tunes in for the finals."
The current crop of seniors played in the WCWS in 2010 and 2012. They get one last shot beginning Monday.
Can Tennessee derail the mighty Oklahoma train? Yes.
How? With Ellen and Ivy Renfroe in the circle, and seniors Raven Chavanne, Kat Dotson, and Lauren Gibson leading a potent offense.
"This is what we've all worked for; this is my third time going to the World Series but my first time in the championship series," said Gibson, who entered the WCWS hitting .409. "I can't even explain the feeling. I feel so blessed to play another game with my teammates and my friends and to continue our season."
Gibson's solo homer in the top of the first jump-started the Volunteers against Texas on Sunday. In a 9-2 victory over Florida on Thursday, Dotson had three hits and three runs batted in and Hannah Akamine was 2-for-4. The hero in a 1-0 victory over Washington on Saturday was nine-hole hitter Tory Lewis, who had three of Tennessee's nine hits. Gibson and Cheyenne Tarango each had two hits in the win. Chavanne is among the nation's batting leaders, boasting a .468 average through 59 games.
In other words, the UT offense is not a one-girl show.
Ellen Renfroe, a junior, entered the 2013 WCWS with a 1-4 career record in NCAA Tournament games. The junior right-hander, however, has been on fire in OKC, striking out 20 in 16.2 innings, while allowing just three earned runs and nine hits. Ivy Renfroe, a senior, worked a big 4.2 innings, striking out six, in UT's 2-1 win over the Longhorns.
"Every day since we started in August our goal was to win a national championship," said Ellen Renfroe.
"For me it is very surreal," said Ivy Renfroe. "It's hard to believe we are going to be playing for a national championship."
Four of the last five WCWS championship finals have included teams from the Southeastern Conference. Florida, 1-2 at this season's event, lost in the best-of-three final series in 2011 and 2009. Alabama beat Oklahoma for the 2012 NCAA title.
The Volunteers are 3-0 all-time against OU, winning games in 2009 and 2010.
Kansas, Texas, Louisville, and Nebraska have each beaten Oklahoma once this season. Tennessee must do it twice in two days.
-- Roger Moore, NCAA.com
The Sooners were the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and a clear favorite heading into the Women's College World Series. Thus far, they have lived up to the hype, and don't plan on that changing as they head into the championships series, the program's third appearance, against Tennessee on Monday with poise and confidence.
"Although our actions may not look like it, this is a very focused and determined team that had one goal and that is to get back and have a chance to win a national championship," head coach Patty Gasso said. "It is difficult to do. It's been difficult this entire year. But the pride I have in this team is about their perseverance and the fact that they are not shaken by anything. … They impress me every time they go out on the field, just their calmness and their confidence."
If the Lady Vols had to pick their poison, it's a tossup whether they'd rather hit against Oklahoma's flame thrower Keilani Ricketts, or pitch to an offense that has accumulated 26 hits and 23 runs in only three WCWS matchups.
In OKC, Ricketts has pitched 19 innings allowing only six hits and five runs while fanning 26. Sunday, she struck out 10 batters, marking her 15th game of double-digit strikeouts this season, the 78th of her career and the second of the WCWS.
Offensively, the Sooners lead all Women's College World Series teams with a .342 batting average. In Sunday's outing against Washington, OU's Brianna Turang whacked a triple followed by homers from Lauren Chamberlain and Keilani Ricketts, setting the stage for the 6-2 win.
"Right now we're a team that's peaking," Gasso said. "We're playing very, very good softball. All the way through the lineup everyone is contributing. Even those guys that are waiting off the bench coming in to run for us. Everybody's locked into this, and it's really it's really exciting."
The Sooners carry a swagger that you just don't see from every other team in Oklahoma City. They are playing with a mission on their mind and a chip on their shoulder after falling to Alabama in last season's championship series.
"What they said, but we've been waiting for this moment for a whole year now, and it feels so great to be back, getting to play the game that we love, getting to play with the teammates that we love," Turang said. "I think just soak in this moment, but also stay focused and keep doing what we do and playing our game."
If OU came in trying to make a statement, it certainly has. The Sooners started championship action with a no-hitter against Michigan, the 17th in WCWS history, toppling the Wolverines 7-1. As if that wasn't statement enough, Oklahoma then proceeded to quickly knock off Texas in a fifth inning run-rule decision at 10-2. And on Sunday, the Sooners sent two long balls well out of the park in the third inning against Washington and again claimed a victory at 6-2.
Oklahoma softball is just doing what they love, and that is focusing on the field and the task at hand, next up being a national championship.
"But like I said earlier, soaking up the sounds, respond to go the crowd and enjoying these moments, because sometimes you get too caught up in the game and you forget to enjoy those things," Chamberlain said.
-- Summer McKesson, NCAA.com