By CORBIN HOSLER
The game seemed over. Tennessee finally broke the seal with Madison Shipman’s three-run home run in the 11th inning, and the Sooners were down to, literally, their last strike.
That’s all they needed.
Oklahoma completed one of the biggest rallies in Women’s College World Series history, scoring three runs in the bottom half of the inning — two of them with two outs — to keep the game going and set the stage for Lauren Chamberlain in the next inning.
And Chamberlain didn’t disappoint. Her 60th career home run — a deep shot to left field that barely stayed fair and came on the first pitch of the at-bat — was also the most important one she’s ever hit. It sent the Sooners home with historic 5-3 win in the longest championship series game ever played at the World Series.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” coach Patty Gasso said. “To be on this side and see how this all transpired; right now I can’t remember it, but I will never forget it. That was one of the most amazing comebacks I have ever seen. It’s nervous down on the field; I can’t imagine how people felt watching it.”
After Shipman’s three-run home run over the center-field wall in the top of the 11th inning to score the game’s first runs, it seemed like Ellen Renfroe would have all she needed to put away OU.
But the Sooners did not go away easily. Aided by a dropped ball on a Keilani Ricketts fly ball, they plated one run before Destinee Martinez and Callie Parsons laced back-to-back hits to the wall to tie the game.
After holding the Volunteers scoreless in the top of the 12th, Brianna Turang led off with a double for OU and brought Chamberlain to the plate, who sent one just fair deep over the left-field wall. The victory, which came nearly four hours after the first pitch, put OU just one game away from a national title.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Chamberlain said. “The nerves were there because this is the championship series; it’s supposed to be that good of a game. I felt like I was just missing the entire game. I felt like I was due. On my way to first, I was watching to see if it was foul or fair. As soon as I saw it was fair and saw my teammates going crazy, I really couldn’t believe it.”
It didn’t look like Chamberlain would ever get the chance.
After giving up one out in the top of the 11th, the Volunteers started the rally with a Kat Dotson infield single, just Tennessee’s second hit of the game to that point. Lauren Gibson then singled to center and set the stage for Shipman, who lined one over straight over centerfield to put Tennessee on top and in control until the Sooners’ incredible comeback.
Both pitchers were nearly flawless for 10 innings. Ricketts gave up just one hit in that time and finished with 12 strikeouts. But whether because she tired or because Tennessee began to figure her out, the Volunteers’ at-bats became longer and longer as the game went on until they finally broke through in the 11th.
Renfroe, on the other hand, looked stronger as the game wore on. For most of the postseason, OU had been able to chase pitchers after once or twice through the lineup, but Renfroe went 10 shutout innings before also giving way in the 11th.
The Sooners had a number of chances to end the game in walk-off fashion, and it looked like they were going to do it in the bottom of the ninth inning. Georgia Casey led off the inning with a single — OU’s first hit since the fourth inning — and then an error on Renfroe put runners on first and second with no outs. Ricketts struck out swinging before a wild pitch advanced the runners, but after an intentional walk Renfroe fought back to force a ground ball out at the plate and struck out Destinee Martinez to end the threat.
The Volunteers also wasted several chances of their own. They had a golden opportunity in the top of the fifth. Shipman led off the inning with a walk but was picked off at first base by Shults two pitches later. The mistake was especially devastating because Ricketts walked the next two batters she faced before forcing Tennessee into a 1-4-3 double play to end the threat. They also threatened first in the extra frames. After a rare error by Jessica Vest at shortstop, the Volunteers put runners on first and second with one out. But Ricketts responded with a strikeout and forced a ground ball to end the frame.
“This was a team on a mission,” Gasso said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The two teams will meet at 7 tonight in the second — and possibly deciding — game of the championship series.