Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts, left, holds the championship trophy after the Sooners defeated Tennessee in Game 2 of the Women’s College World Series on Tuesday night. (AP Photo)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Ralph Weekly knew his Tennessee Lady Vols were going to have to find a way to produce some offense to give top-seeded Oklahoma a challenge in the Women's College World Series.
Then the Sooners threw a curveball. Instead of sending national player of the year Keilani Ricketts out for Game 2, they went with Michelle Gascoigne in the circle.
Ricketts homered and drove in four runs, Gascoigne pitched a three-hit shutout and Oklahoma won the NCAA softball championship by beating Tennessee 4-0 on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Women's College World Series finals.
"They are an amazing team. I spent nine years with our national team and I think that Oklahoma team would have beaten most of the other countries that we played, even the great ones," said Weekly, Tennessee's co-head coach.
"I don't know if they'd have beaten the U.S. But I'll tell you what, they're a great team."
Tennessee entered the World Series averaging 6.95 runs and ranking second in the nation in scoring, behind only the Sooners, but couldn't push a run across in the first seven innings of either game in the finals.
Ricketts and Tennessee's Ellen Renfroe each had shutouts through 10 innings in the opener, and Gascoigne put up more zeroes throughout Game 2 against a Lady Vols lineup that featured several changes.
"We knew how good she was, but it's hard to find information on her," Weekly said. "We tried and I know it might have looked like we just weren't hitting out there, but I'll tell you. Our kids were really trying, we were making in-game adjustments and she just pitched a great game."
Ricketts drove a 2-1 pitch from Ivy Renfroe (22-5) halfway up the right-field bleachers for a three-run home run in the third inning and tacked on an RBI groundout in the seventh.
Ricketts got the night off in the circle after throwing a career-high 12 innings in Game 1 and moving to 35-1 on the season, but that just put the other half of her well-rounded game on display. She hit her 15th home run of the season and pushed her RBI total to 60.
No. 7 seed Tennessee (52-12) managed just three singles against Gascoigne (19-3), who struck out 12 and didn't walk anyone.
Ricketts, who was the designated player, was the first one charging out of the dugout when Gascoigne struck out pinch-hitter Lexi Overstreet looking to wrap up the Sooners' second national championship. Oklahoma (57-4) also won it all in 2000 and was the runner-up to Alabama last season.
Seeking redemption for that loss, the Sooners were a dominant force all season long, carrying the No. 1 ranking from the first week of the regular season and leading the nation in both scoring and earned-run average. It took a captivating 11th-inning rally for them to beat Tennessee in Game 1, with a dropped pop-up sparking a three-run outburst before Lauren Chamberlain's 30th home run of the season won it in the 12th.
"We schemed last night and got ready and almost won in a great game and then we schemed all day to try to beat them again, and we gave it everything we had," Weekly said. "I mean, we left it on the field and they just beat us."
The lack of offense bore some resemblance to the Lady Vols' only other appearance in the championship series. In 2007, they provided Monica Abbott only one run over 24 innings in a three-game series loss to Arizona. Tennessee was shut out in Games 2 and 3 of that series.
Raven Chavanne, the Lady Vols' finalist for player of the year and a .455 hitter entering the championship series, was hitless for a second straight game. She struck out in two of her three at-bats and finished the finals 0-for-9 with six strikeouts.
"This team can play with anybody anytime except the last night or so," Weekly said. "The team we played ... was just an unbelievable team, the best we've seen all year. And I still think we were definitely in it last night and if we had another chance, we might be in it tomorrow."
Both teams went with their second-string starters after that marathon, in which Ricketts and Ellen Renfroe — Ivy's younger sister — both had shutouts through 10 innings.
It didn't take nearly as long for an offensive breakthrough in Game 2.
After Ricketts provided the lead, Gascoigne struck out the side in order in the bottom of the third to start a string of eight batters in a row retired. She retired 15 of the final 16 batters she faced out, with Melissa Davin's one-out single in the fifth as the only interruption.
Kat Dotson and Madison Shipman had the only other hits for Tennessee.
"Ending on that field is amazing," Lady Vols second baseman Lauren Gibson said, "but obviously I wanted to end with a national championship."