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May 26, 2014

OU's lineup too much for Lady Vols in Super Regional

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For the first time all-year, Oklahoma's season was on the brink of ending.

They'd won the first game of last weekend's Super Regional against Tennessee but were soundly beaten -- hit in the mouth -- by a bunch of Lady Vols who weren't going back to Knoxville, Tenn., without leaving all they had on Marita Hynes Field.

Weather delays, humidity and heat had taken its toll on both squads by Sunday. They were tired, but there was a trip to Women's College World Series waiting for the day's victor.

It was a time for the leaders of each team to takeover, to come to the forefront. And when Oklahoma captain Lauren Chamberlain led, the Sooners followed.

"We were going to make a stand at the end of the season and I think you're seeing that right now," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain's first home run was followed by four more from four different Sooners in OU's 8-2 victory against Tennessee on Sunday.

Chamberlain hit 3-for-4 with two home runs -- including one that smacked the video board in left center field -- and two RBIs in Game 3 of the best-of-3 Super Regional. Her 72 home runs ties her for 10th all-time in NCAA history and just 18 from the record held by former UCLA player Stacey Nuveman.

With the win, OU earned a trip back to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

"She's doing this with one leg, literally," said OU coach Patty Gasso. "I've never seen somebody so in tune and so confident. I don't know even know the words to describe the hitter she is because she can hit anything. Nothing rattles her, nothing makes her uncomfortable."

After the seventh-seeded Sooners (50-11) fell behind 1-0 in the top of the second inning, Chamberlain hit her first bomb to tie the game up in the bottom of the third and spark a 2-run inning. Each team traded runs in the fourth.

Then in the fifth inning, career .217 hitter and senior Javen Henson hit just her fifth home run of the season and 15th in her career. That gave sophomore pitcher Kelsey Stevens (37-8) a 4-2 lead heading into the sixth.

Stevens bounced back from Saturday night's poor outing. She gave up just one earned run, three hits and recorded five strikeouts in seven innings of work.

In each of Oklahoma's wins against the Lady Vols, Stevens completed the game.

"I felt like if I let up even a little bit, then they're going to jump on you so I was just making sure that I controlled the at-bats," Stevens said. "I feel like I've gained more confidence as time has gone on and just working with the team and it's just all coming together at once and I'm finding it at the right time."

Stevens sat down the heart of the Tennessee (46-12) order in the top of the sixth. She got UT shortstop Madison Shipman to line out for the first out.

After walking left fielder Lexi Overstreet, she got freshman phenom Annie Aldrete to pop up and got designated player Melissa Davin -- who had homered off Stevens earlier in the day -- to strikeout looking.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Sooners broke the game open with three home runs and four runs scored in the inning.

The first came from Chamberlain. Her homer convinced Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly to pull ace Ellen Renfroe (30-8) in favor of pitcher Erin Gabriel.

When Gabriel gave up three straight hits and back-to-back home runs to the only three hitters she faced, Renfroe was brought back in with nobody out and nobody on. Renfroe ended up going six innings, giving up 10 hits, five earned runs and three walks.

In the final game of her career, Renfroe, the woman with the second-most strikeouts in Lady Vols history, didn't strikeout a single Sooner. Shipman, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, went 0-for-3 in her last collegiate softball game.

"They've got a great lineup, no ifs and or buts about it," UT coach Ralph Weekly said. "I think Ellen Renfroe is a pretty good pitcher but they were too much for her these last three days."

The Sooners, who had once fallen as far as No. 23 in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, have shown what they are made of in the last six weeks of the season.

Thanks to steady pitching from Stevens and clutch hitting throughout the lineup, the Sooners will have an opportunity to defend their 2013 title and become one of just three programs to win back-to-back titles.

"I call it the 'promise land' because that's what it feels like," said Chamberlain of earning third-straight trip to the WCWS. "Personally, and I think the team would say the same, some of my best moments have been on that field and in that environment."




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