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June 8, 2012OKLAHOMA CITY | It was played out over the course of a week.
It was decided in 13 minutes.
Break down the University of Alabama softball team's 5-4 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners early Thursday morning in the decisive game in the Women's College World Series best-of-three championship series, and it comes down to a span of less than a quarter of an hour when light rain halted play.
Just that quickly, the Crimson Tide snatched the momentum away from an Oklahoma team that had cruised to a 3-0 lead over the first three innings. Just like that, Alabama turned the tables on USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts, who had struck out five batters in the first two innings to set UA's hitters on their heels while looking like an untouchable force.
It began with a solid leadoff single by UA shortstop Kaila Hunt, who had struggled with Oklahoma's left-handed pitcher from the start of the series.
Ricketts retired the next two batters on a fly ball and a strikeout, but threw wild pitches that moved Hunt all the way to third base. Catcher Kendall Dawson then drew a walk, and Hunt scored on the first pitch to Amanda Locke, another wild pitch.
As Ricketts struggled with control in the rain, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso complained to umpires about the weather. After the pitch that scored Hunt, they obliged and called a rain delay.
During that 13-minute delay, Alabama gathered all the momentum it would need to win the national title.
Oklahoma players sought shelter in their dugout. Alabama players ran onto the field, dancing and jumping up and down and leading cheers with the fans in the stands.
The message was clear: Alabama wanted to play, and Oklahoma didn't.
"I thought that fueled the fire, really," said Locke, one of UA's six seniors. "From then on, there was no stopping us. We were 20 hearts beating together. We weren't turning back. We were winning this."
In truth, Alabama players were acting a little crazy on purpose, and had been doing so from the start of the game. While Ricketts was striking out batters and Oklahoma was taking a 3-0 lead on two home runs, Alabama players in the dugout were celebrating like they were winning.
And it was all part of the plan to conquer Ricketts.
"We really just focused on celebrating the little things," Fenton said. "If we fouled a ball off, if we took a ball, if we put a ball in play, we just celebrated that.
"That really carried over. With us being loud, our dugout was so loud, I think it got in her head."
Sharon Cessna, the NCAA's director of championships, led the umpires back onto the field to resume the game after the brief delay.
"We were getting some reports that the rain was going to get a little bit heavier, but then after that 12 to 15 minutes it was going to clear off and everything was going to be clear after that," Cessna said. "So we just wanted to make sure we were doing the best for our student-athletes and thought it was better to pull them off for the short period of time that the hardest of the rain passed and then put them back out on the field."
Gasso, the Oklahoma coach, seemed to continue to protest. Alabama seemed anxious to play.
It showed immediately. Locke hit an RBI single, third baseman Courtney Conley followed with a double to drive in another run and Jazlyn Lunceford reached on an error that brought Conley home.
Suddenly, Alabama was ahead 4-3.
"It started with the rain delay," Conley said. "We were like, gosh, we wanted to play. We just wanted to be out there.
"That inning started, and everybody just kept it going. So it was great to have the momentum on our side."
Gasso felt it, too.
"It did take momentum away," she said. "It's hard to come back out and get refocused and feel the count, and it took a little time to get warmed up, but that just happened.
"It's just the way that it was meant to be and the way it happened."
Perhaps, that was it. Maybe it was just meant to be.
"We were frustrated that we didn't get to play (during the delay)," Murphy said. "That just energized us. The crowd got into it. We got into it, and we had some really good at-bats.
"We did not look good in the first couple of innings. (Ricketts) struck out five of the first six, and it was 3-0 before you blink.
"But that's the great quality of these young ladies. I don't think anybody was panicking. The little break helped us. They let off some steam and did some cheers, and it was like, OK, we get to play again."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.