OKLAHOMA CITY —
Keilani Ricketts sounded casual about it.
She was signing her autographs for well wishers and fans beyond Hall of Fame Stadium’s left-field fence with her teammates.
She had just collected her 15th win of the season, a 4-0 one-hit shutout of Bedlam rival Oklahoma State; a game in which she saved her best for last, striking out the Cowgirl side in the seventh inning to lift her strikeout total to 10 for the game and 196 for the season over 1211⁄3 innings; and a game in which she shaved another 0.04 off her earned-run average, lowering it to the unheard of depth of 0.69.
Along the autograph line, it was no big deal, easy, maybe even expected. It just, you know, was.
“When I’m hitting my spots, it’s pretty good,” she said. “Change-up, curve and screwball.”
Simple and easy.
Only it isn’t.
Something profound is taking place with the Sooner pitcher.
A year ago, Ricketts’ left arm and left-handed bat embarrassed Arizona on the Wildcats’ super regional home field and sent the Sooners back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2004.
So maybe that’s where the new Ricketts took root, during a huge postseason that flowed right into her spot on USA Softball’s senior national team. But there’s no getting around the numbers and the numbers do not flow the same way. Because, last season, Ricketts finished with a 1.48 earned run average. Now, it is less than half that. The difference is dramatic.
Only four of 24 Big 12 conference games have been played, so the competition is bound to become more difficult for the junior southpaw. But her progress is stunning.
One of the things about college softball at the highest level is great pitching isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Great college pitchers may not be a dime a dozen, but there are many nonetheless. Some, though, are better than great. Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott and Jennie Finch were better than great. Right now, Ricketts is, too.
Wednesday night was her fourth one-hitter of the season. And those seven scoreless innings make 48 straight, a streak she’ll carry into this weekend’s three-game set with Kansas at Marita Hynes Field.
So, there she was, signing autographs and sounding casual about it all. It was new look from Ricketts, who in the past has tended to be all smiles but not very introspective about her game, a trait she would sometimes bring to the circle and one that did her few favors in jams.
Now, she adjusts.
Now, Gasso said, “she answers her own call.”
Can a casual attitude along an autograph line foretell maturity? The coach may not make the connection, but she’s fine with where it leads.
“A little more mature,” Gasso said. “I don’t think Keilani allows any outside influences to get to her the way she used to.”
Against OSU, the only outside influences were a couple errors her defense turned in and the single walk Ricketts allowed. One boot, in the sixth inning, was erased by a nifty 1-6-4 double play. The earlier one, in the third, along with the walk, put two Cowgirls on the bases for the first and only time of the game. One easy groundout later and the side was retired.
Ricketts remained in complete command.
“Just being able to not let (bad things) frustrate me,” she said, is the difference. “Just being a junior and having the experience I’ve had, I’ve been able to deal with it better than I have before.”
One half of the Bedlam equation is going nowhere. The Cowgirls still have Kat Espinoza in the circle, but can’t hit a lick.
But OU has Jessica Shults and Georgia Casey hitting north of .400. Lauren Chamberlain’s 12 home runs is seven more than OSU has hit all season.
Then there’s Ricketts in the circle.
The wide eyes are gone and a new pitcher has emerged.
The possibilities, like Ricketts’ scoreless inning streak and her microscopic earned run average, might, casually speaking, be historic.
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Keilani Ricketts sounded casual about it.
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