ANN ARBOR, Mich. Playing its second straight extra-innings game against top-seeded Michigan (43-13), the No. 18 Oklahoma softball team (40-21-1) was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament after falling 5-2 to the Wolverines in eight innings Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Mich.
OU was making its seventh straight appearance in the Regional Final and fell short of its quest for seven straight Regional Championships.
“This is a hard way to go out, especially when you have a team that you love working with,” head coach Patty Gasso said. “D.J. [Mathis] threw her heart out and our team played their hearts out because they knew that they wanted to continue on in the tournament.
"You could feel the intensity on that field between both teams going back and forth. Both have championship experience, so it came down to who had more, who could take advantage of what they were given. [Jennie] Ritter, again, was outstanding. She’s one of the best we’ve faced all season without question. But we gave it everything we had.”
The game was decided in the eighth as both teams entered the frame with it tied, 2-2. UM’s Alessandra Giampaolo led off the first frame of extra-innings with a leadoff double to left field and Grace Leuetle drove a two-run homer over the fence in right. Tiffany Worthy followed Leutele’s effort with another homer over the bleachers in right-center in the next at-bat to give Michigan the 5-2 lead before OU starter D.J. Mathis was relieved by senior Nicole Denes.
Mathis, appearing in her first career NCAA Regional, was the Sooners’ go-to-girl in the circle over the weekend. The lefty freshman posted a 1.88 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched. Against the defending National Champions on Sunday, Mathis (15-9) surrendered 10 hits and five runs while fanning five Wolverines in seven complete innings.
In her final inning in the circle for the Sooners, Denes allowed no hits and retired all three batters she faced. Denes was perfect in NCAA Tournament action, not allowing one earned run in two appearances and picking up the victory over Kent State Saturday evening.
Michigan’s All-American hurler Jennie Ritter improved to 30-6 after striking out 19 Sooners, a Michigan record, and allowing seven hits and two earned runs.
With the game scoreless through three innings, Michigan was the first to get on the board after Samantha Findlay pounded a double to left field with one out. Leutele rallied Michigan with two outs as her hard hit double to deep center field scored Findlay. Mathis retired the final batter but not before Michigan took the 1-0 lead.
OU’s Norrelle Dickson broke up Jennie Ritter’s no-hitter in the fourth as she led off the frame with an infield single placed on the left side of the field. Kristin Vesely continued the Sooner rally with a single to right field as the Sooners had runners at first and second. After both runners moved to scoring position on a passed ball, Ritter intentionally walked Samantha Ricketts to load the bases with one out.
Sophomore Savannah Long stepped to the plate and recorded her biggest hit of the tournament, a two RBI single to center field to give Oklahoma its first lead of the game, 2-1.
However, Michigan tied it up in the fifth after Stephanie Bercaw led off the inning with a hit that scaled the top of the center field wall, but was brought back in by center fielder Vesely’s glove and the hit was ruled a double. Bercaw stole third and scored on Rebekah Milian’s bloop single to second base as Michigan and Oklahoma were tied 2-2 after the top of the fifth.
The Wolverines threatened in the seventh after the Wolverines posted runners at first and second with one out. Milian loaded the bases after her fielder’s choice between the pitcher and third baseman allowed UM’s Brandi Ewing enough time to slide into third safely. Mathis calmed down and retired the final two batters as the Sooners escaped the frame.
After Michigan took the lead in extra innings, Oklahoma had the final at bat. Freshman Samantha Ricketts gave the Sooners a chance with a line drive single over the first baseman’s head, but Oklahoma couldn’t capitalize as Michigan, the No. 9 seed overall, claimed the win and advanced to a Super Regional against eighth-seeded Tennessee next weekend.
While the loss ended the Sooners’ season, it also marked their 13th straight appearance in the postseason and the 13th time that Gasso has posted 40 or more wins in a season at Oklahoma. Additionally, OU advanced to the finals of the Big 12 Championship and set a school record with 24 double plays turned while placing five Sooners on the All-Big 12 teams with four landing on the Midwest All-Region Teams.
Oklahoma only loses two seniors in Kristin Vesely and Nicole Denes, but will return 15 letterwinners in 2006.