ANN ARBOR, Mich. Facing a must-win situation, the Oklahoma softball team (40-20-1) got its offense going and used a 9-1 run rule (five innings) over Kent State to move on to the NCAA Regional No. 9 Championship Sunday afternoon. The Sooners will face host school and top-seeded Michigan Sunday afternoon at 12 p.m. (CST) at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, Mich., and must beat the defending National Champions twice to earn a trip to a Super Regional next weekend.
In its second game of the day, Oklahoma used 16 hits to beat the Kent State Golden Flashes for the second time in the Regional. It was a much different scene than OU’s opening game against Kent State where it only tallied four hits and one run against KSU’s Brittney Robinson, who took the loss on Saturday after giving up six runs on 10 hits in 3.0 innings.
“I’m pleased with this group for knowing what was at stake tonight and really taking care of the game plan that was set before them.” head coach Patty Gasso said. “We needed our offense to get clicking and it did while our pitching from Nicole Denes was exceptional as well. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Eight out of 10 Sooners recorded a hit while five posted multiple-hit outings at the plate. Headlining the offense was senior Kristin Vesely, who broke the OU career hit record previously held by Lisa Carey (1998-01). Vesely used a 3-for-4 outing at the plate to set the new record and also added her 49th RBI of the season.
“I honestly didn’t even know that I was that close to the record,” Vesely said. “It’s always good to go down in the record books, but I’m more concerned with our game tomorrow than any of the individual accomplishments.”
Savannah Long was a huge factor in Saturday night’s game as she went 3-for-4 with four RBI, including her seventh home run of the season. Norrelle Dickson extended her hitting streak to 11 games with a 2-for-4 performance while Amber Spaulding (3-for-4, 1 RBI) and Mariee Mena (2-for-4) each added multiple hits.
For the second time against Kent State Oklahoma put a run on the board in the first inning after back-to-back doubles from Vesely and Samantha Rickets. Vesely’s two-out double to center field in the first frame marked her 289th career hit, tying the OU mark. On the ensuing play, Ricketts pounded her 51st RBI of the season with her double to center field to score Vesely and give OU the 1-0 advantage.
Oklahoma didn’t stop in the second as Mena reached base on an error by Kent State’s first baseman. Susan Ogden and Dickson followed with singles to load the bases. Junior Amber Spaulding recorded her first hit of the tournament with an RBI single to center field. Vesely recorded her record-breaking hit in the second frame, an RBI single with the bases loaded to push the Sooner lead to 3-0 after two innings.
Kent State got on the board in the bottom of the third after KSU’s Hamilton reached base on an error. After a single by Whitney Lebowitz, the Golden Flashes had runners at the corners with two outs. Jamie Fitzpatrick knocked in KSU’s first run with an infield RBI single.
The Sooners used a five-hit four-run inning in the fourth to extend the lead. Long highlighted the frame with a two-run homer to deep center field.
It was Long again in the top of the fifth, whose two RBI triple pushed the Sooner lead to 9-1 as Oklahoma held the Golden Flashes scoreless in the bottom of the fifth and OU took the 9-1 run rule victory.
In her first appearance in the NCAA Tournament this season, senior pitcher Nicole Denes (13-5) was stellar for the Sooners as she only surrendered five hits and zero earned runs while fanning three batters and not allowing any walks.
Now the Sooners will focus their attention towards Michigan on Sunday as Oklahoma will be appearing in its seventh straight Regional Championship game. If Oklahoma beats Michigan in game one (12 p.m. CST), it will have to beat UM in a game immediately following. A loss on Sunday will end the Sooners’ season.
Sunday's action will be carried on KOKC (1520 AM) with Tony Sellars calling the action. The game will not be on television, but live stats will be available at www.SoonerSports.com.
NCAA Regional Postgame Notes: OU’s 16 hits marked its second-highest total of the season and its best performance in a five-inning game .... Earlier this season, OU recorded 18 hits against Indiana in a seven-inning contest ... Kristin Vesely owns the OU career hit mark with 291 ... The Sooners are 34-4 when scoring first and 21-7 when scoring in the first inning.