Oklahoma ends ASU quest for back-to-back softball titles

Fifty-three wins.  Not bad for a season’s work on the softball diamond.

But it wasn’t enough.  Arizona State (53-11) saw its hopes for a second straight national title dashed in the Women’s College World Series when Oklahoma’s ace pitcher, Keilani Ricketts, struck out 13 Sun Devil hitters to post a 5-3 win and earn the right to move on to the championship game.

No. 3 ASU lost earlier to Alabama, so it had to beat the No. 4-seeded Sooners twice to move on.  The Devils never got the chance to play that second game, despite jumping to a 2-0 lead, and will have to settle for reaching the WCWS for the 10th time in program history.

The Devils drew first blood at ASA Stadium in Oklahoma City and looked like they were going to give the No. 6 Sooners all they could handle.  They grabbed the lead right away as Annie Lockwood‘s double to right center in the first inning gave ASU the lead until the Sooners used a home run in the bottom of the second – their 98th of the season – and then piled up four hits in the third to go up 5-2.

Elizabeth Caporuscio gave the Devils their final run when she singled to left center in the fourth, advanced on a wild pitch, and then scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Katelyn Boyd.

But Ricketts settled down after that and controlled the game the rest of the way.  The big left-hander, this year’s National Player of the Year, stranded nine runners, five of them in scoring position, and bore down to close out the win by striking out the final three batters in the seventh.

Ricketts has logged 84 strikeouts in 52 innings of work in the post-season, leading the Sooners to an undefeated run (8-0) since the regular season ended.

Dallas Escobedo was tagged with the ASU loss, and was also on the mound for the 2-1 loss to Alabama Friday.  The sophomore won the opener against Oregon and then the seasoned senior, Hillary Bach, stepped in after the Alabama loss to blank LSU, 6-0, to give the team a chance at Oklahoma.

Escobedo finished with a 24-8 season record and went 4-4 in the post-season.  For the 2010 Gatorade Arizona Pitcher of the Year at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, that represents a bit of a slide from last year.

The hard-throwing right hander was 37-3 as a freshman last year and was on the mound for all 10 games in the post-season, when the then-No. 1 Sun Devils ran undefeated through the regionals, the super regionals, and the WCWS.

She became the first freshman pitcher in 20 years to carry a school to the national title.

But this year it was Bach that was the picture of consistency, rolling up a 22-1 record, going 3-0 in the post-season.  Her ERA going into the WCWS was an impressive 1.59.

Next year, Escobedo takes over the leadership mantle on the mound as a junior.  But she will have a more seasoned squad to support her efforts to take ASU back to the WCWS in 2013.

“I know that we’re going to be better next year because we’re going to be a year older,” said head coach, Clint Myers, after the season’s final game in Oklahoma.  “We’re young.  We started three freshmen and two sophomores.  So those freshmen will be  sophomores, and the sophomores will be juniors.

“We’ll be back here.”

(Photo: Oklahoma Athletics)