OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Sooners are going the distance.
After losing their first game of the Women’s College World Series, the top-seeded Sooners have battled all the way back to avenge their loss to the James Madison Dukes and force an if-necessary game with a 6-3 win on Sunday morning at USA Hall of Fame Stadium.
In a mirror of their first meeting on Wednesday, Oklahoma (53-3) and James Madison (41-3) entered the seventh inning tied 3-3.
But for a brief moment, the crowed at Hall of Fame Stadium morphed into something that sounded more like Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, almost as if to will their Sooners across the finish line.
Splitting the complex down home plate, the crowd, led by Sooner legend Lauren Chamberlain and her crew of former OU softball stars, erupted in a “Boomer Sooner” chant between the fans on the first and third base lines, firing up their team.
“We didn't know that that was going on, but we saw (former Sooners Caleigh Clifton and Jessica Schults in the crowd) sprinting down the right field line, and the stands, the whole crowd going back and forth,” OU catcher Kinzie Hansen said after the game. “I know I got the chills a little bit, I was like, this is about to happen, we're about to get this done.”
And the Sooners delivered.
Pinch hitter Rylie Boone laid down an inch-perfect bunt from the 9-hole, allowing the lineup to turn over with no outs.
“Something about Boone is she knows how to get on base, for sure. Whenever we need it she does it,” Hansen said. “When she got that down the whole dugout just erupted. It was something that we absolutely needed to get the ball rolling, for sure.”
Up next, Tiare Jennings stepped into the batter’s box having already set the NCAA RBI record (91) for a freshman with a leadoff home run in the first at-bat of the game.
On the second pitch she saw from Dukes star pitcher Odicci Alexander, Jennings added to her record day by doubling to the wall in right center and scoring Boone from first to send the stadium into a frenzy.
“I had the chills. I just kept smiling at second base and just kind of looking because that's how cool it was at that moment,” Jennings said. “Definitely gave us that spark to do what we did.”
Two batters later, Kinzie Hansen added insurance with a two-run blast to deep center.
Hansen’s homer punctuated a much better outing for the Oklahoma bats in their second matchup with Alexander. Appearing to take a much more patient approach, they worked Alexander deep into at-bats and were able to log seven hits off the Dukes ace.
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said the team was much more prepared to square off with Alexander on Sunday morning than they were three days ago.
“It's always a little bit easier the second — not easier, but you have more knowledge the second time around,” she said after the game. “And having never faced her, we were not prepared for what she was bringing.
“I think facing (UCLA's) Rachel Garcia really helped us prepare for today. It wasn't easy. Don't get me wrong. She still had a lot of our numbers. But I just felt like we felt more confident.”
Freshman pitcher Nicole May also played a key role for the Sooners, rebounding from her performance against UCLA on Saturday night.
Gasso called upon May after James Madison shortstop Sara Jubas, just as she did on Thursday, smoked a three-run home run off of starter Shannon Saile to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.
May closed the game out for the Sooners, officially forcing an evening session at Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Nicole May always has the greatest demeanor on the mound. Remains calm, always has that very focused approach,” Hansen said. “She got on the mound and I knew she was going to get it done.
“When I'm behind the plate, I love bringing that aggression, that fiery edge. So, when she was on the mound I was like, 'I’ve got you right here I'm going to get you going.' And it worked.”
May allowed no runs and struck out six batters in 3 1/3 innings of relief of Saile.
The teams meet again Sunday night after Florida State-Alabama with the winner advancing to the National Championship Series. Assuming they play, Sunday night’s decisive game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
“We're ready to battle. We're all in it,” Jennings said. “We are as excited as we can get. We're going to get after it.”