NORMAN — Ever since Oklahoma received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, most of the attention has been focused on whether or not the Sooners can take the step they were one game away from last year and win the national championship.
Except, that is, inside the Sooners’ locker room. The team has set the goal of the title, but has been unwilling to discuss looking ahead. Instead, they’re focusing on just the next opponent they have to face, even while OU (52-4) has looked dominant in run-ruling four of their five postseason opponents.
Now, that next opponent is Michigan.
The Wolverines earned the tournament’s eighth seed after finishing the season 50-11 and dominating the Big Ten on the way to a 20-2 conference record. They then swept the regional tournament, outscoring their three opponents a combined 13-1.
But things didn’t go so easily in the Super Regional against Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend, and the Wolverines had to overcome adversity to advance to their 10 Women’s College World Series. Down a run in the eighth inning of the first game, the Wolverines found their hero in senior Ashley Lane, who hit a walk-off, two-run home run to give Michigan the win.
ULL fought back with a decisive 5-0 victory in the next contest, setting up a winner-take-all third game. And, trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning, it was again Lane who came up big for Michigan. She sent a line drive into the gap to double in a pair of runs, the only two the Wolverines would score in the 2-1 win.
After clinching a trip to the WCWS, Lane credited her teammates with getting on base in front of her.
“I’m thankful that they were on base,” she said after the game. “Something good was bound to happen, so I’m pumped. I’m so excited, I can’t even express; I’m stumbling right now. I’m just happy I could do that for my team.”
Lane is one of seven Michigan starters batting more than .300 in a talented lineup, and she is second on the team with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. It’s a tough draw for OU ace Keilani Ricketts, who will see the Wolverines for the first time when they meet at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night in the opening round of the World Series.
But there are concerns for the Wolverines, chief among them the availability of sophomore pitcher Haylie Wagner. After missing the first month of the season due to injury, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year a season ago reinjured herself during warmup before the deciding game against ULL. She is 19-3 this year with an ERA of 2.5
Sara Driesenga pitched in her place last weekend and carried the Wolverines to the World Series, but coach Carol Hutchins knows her team could use both arms this week.
But whether or not they will have both pitchers available is still unclear.