Michelle Gascoigne doesn’t mind it when the bases are loaded.
A day after working out of several bases-loaded jams, Gascoigne faced her biggest test of the weekend on Sunday, coming on for Keilani Ricketts in the bottom of the seventh inning with two runners aboard. First, she walked them loaded, then she got Texas’ best hitter, Taylor Hoagland, to pop out in the infield. She followed that by striking out Brejae Washington to end the game and the series with a 5-3 Oklahoma victory.
“All day yesterday I was working out of jams, so it wasn’t anything new to me this weekend,” Gascoigne said after getting the out that put OU into the driver’s seat for the Big 12 championship. “I knew Keilani needed my help and I knew that they would be taking some big swings. I just wanted to get ahead in the count and get the outs.”
She did, ending a second straight day of seventh-inning drama between No. 1 OU and No. 6 Texas.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less out of these two teams,” coach Patty Gasso said. “Both teams big-time wanted this. I’m proud of Keilani for knowing she was out of gas and asking for Michelle to come and finish it. And Michelle was just really clutch for us all weekend.”
Gascoigne ended the game with a flourish, but it was Ricketts who got the Sooners there. Texas ace Blaire Luna and Ricketts mirrored each other in the way they began the game. Both opened up with two strikeouts before allowing a home run to the three-hole hitter.
But while both pitchers may have started off the same, they went in opposite directions from there. Ricketts came back and struck out Karina Scott to end the inning, while Luna allowed the Sooners to load the bases and bring in another run.
It was a sign of things to come. Ricketts dominated for most of the game until the final inning, while Luna gave up nine hits and left the game in the sixth inning with OU on top 5-1 after giving up the second home run of the day to Shelby Pendley.
It was OU’s depth that made the difference Sunday.
The Sooners’ ability to pitch Gascoigne on Saturday allowed Ricketts a day of rest, something Luna could have used after pitching three days in a row for the first time this season. The Texas senior wasn’t her best a day after giving up just four hits in Texas’ 4-2 victory.
Again it was the bottom of the OU order coming through, breaking the game open in the fifth inning with a leadoff walk to Jessica Shults and a single from Destinee Martinez setting the stage for Brianna Turang, who doubled into left field to bring in two runs and give OU some insurance it would later need.
“She’s been on fire all weekend,” Gasso said of Turang. “She’s such a spark at nine (in the batting order) for us. One of the things I’m most proud of this weekend is the way the bottom of the lineup came through for us.”
While Ricketts was dealing in the circle, Pendley made sure the Sooners would have the offense to back her up. The sophomore broke out of an 0 for 4 slump in the series’ first two games by going 2 for 2 on Sunday with two deep solo home runs in the first and sixth innings.
Pendley found success against Luna after watching film on Saturday night and moving back in the batter’s box.
“I wasn’t going to strike out again,” she said. “After I got that first one my confidence went way up and I was relieved.”
Both pitchers settled down after the frenetic first inning. Luna worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second while Ricketts kept the Longhorns from threatening for the next several frames.
With the win, OU (39-3, 8-1) took two out of three from Texas (39-6, 9-2), thereby gaining control of the Big 12 race. The Sooners have more conference games left to play than the Longhorns, but would have to lose two games against unranked teams with a combined conference record of 12-21 and have Texas win out to lose the Big 12 title.
“We have to keep working still, but this was really big for us,” Pendley said.
The Sooners next take the field at 4 p.m. Tuesday at North Texas in their final non-conference game of the regular season. OU has three more conference series remaining: Iowa State at home, Kansas in Lawrence and Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City, Norman and Stillwater.
Michelle Gascoigne doesn’t mind it when the bases are loaded.
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