Westbrook, Thunder snatch OT victory from young Suns

Photo by Sam Murch

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook is a different breed of player. Things that wear down mortal athletes don’t seem to bother the Oklahoma City guard.

Westbrook scored 51 points as part of his 38 career triple-double to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to an 113-110 overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. He made 17 of 44 shots from the field and had 13 rebounds and 10 assists. It was the first-triple double that included 50 or more points since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974-75 season.

Despite playing 45 minutes, Westbrook was not phased.

“You have to want to win,” Westbrook said. “Very simple/. If you want to win, you don’t think about being tired. Being tired is a mind thing. It’s all in your mind. You have to go out and compete at a high level and leave it on the floor.”

Thunder guard Victor Oladipo added 21 points. No other Oklahoma City player scored in double figures.

The Suns were led by guard TJ Warren’s 30 points and nine rebounds. Guard Devin Booker scored 21 points and Eric Bledsoe added 17.

“Our young guys came in here and got a lot better from last game,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. “I am just proud of those guys in the locker room.”

With 6:53 left in the fourth quarter, Warren drained a jumper to push Suns’ lead to seven. Thunder center Steven Adams came back with a tip-back dunk.

However, Warren knocked down another jumper before Westbrook was fouled while hitting a shot. He missed the free throw, but Adams collected the rebound and was fouled by Suns center Tyson Chandler. Adams hit both free throws to close gap to 96-95 with 5:38 left in regulation.

A Westbrook layup put Oklahoma City ahead for the first time, but Suns guard Brevin Knight took the lead right back with a layup over Adams.

Oladipo hit two free throws and the Thunder were back in front 99-98. After the Suns came up empty on back-to-back possessions, Andre Roberson drained a long 3-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 102-98 advantage with 2:39 on the clock.

Suns scored the next four points and tied it. The Thunder had the ball with 30 seconds left. Westbrook missed back-to-back shots, but the Suns knocked the ball out with 1.1 seconds on the clock. Adams’ shot was short and the game headed into overtime.

With 1:11 left in the extra period, Adams completed a three-point play that put Oklahoma City ahead 109-108. But Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe hit a tough layup over a leaping Westbrook to put the Suns up 110-109.

With 13.5 seconds left, Oklahoma City had the ball. Westbrook drove straight down the lane for a layup that put the Thunder ahead by one with 7.5 seconds left.

Booker got the ball and tried to go baseline. But Roberson, for the second straight game, came up with a clutch blocked shot at the rim. Westbrook got the rebound and was fouled. He hit both free three to close the game.

“We messed up the coverage,” Roberson said of the defensive play. “But we never gave up. With stuck with it. Steve closed out, I helped him out. I got the blocked, used my instincts. We got it done together tonight.”

Oklahoma City outrebounded Phoenix 57-44. But they also had 2-15 lead in turnovers.

The Suns only shot 5 of 8 from behind the arc, but made up for the lack of proficiency in other areas.

“We played hard,” Booker said. “A lot better from the first game, which is really important. You know we are moving in the right direction. Every time we step on the floor, we want to get better and I feel like we did that tonight.”

Unlike their season opener, the Suns came out full of energy and shooting lights out. They had a balanced attack as all five starters scored in the game’s first six minutes.

But it was the three guard combination of Booker, Warren and Knight that wore out the Thunder early. The trio combined for 27 points in the first quarter as they drained jumper after jumper and took a 40-25 lead.

After allowing the Suns to shoot almost 70 percent from the field in the opening quarter, the Thunder locked it in during the second period and held Phoenix to 5 of 26 shooting.

Westbrook tried to single-handily got the Thunder back into the game. He scored 23 points in the third quarter, but Oklahoma City still trailed 83-77 heading into the fourth.

“That’s what he does,” Booker said. “He is an aggressive scorer. One of the best players in the league, we knew that coming in. I think he took like 45 shots. We know he is going to get his shots.”

Stunning developments

Oklahoma’s Jayden Chestnut and Erin Miller sit stunned during post game press conference after watching Auburn comeback to beat them Tuesday in the Womens’s College World Series. (Photo by Michael Kinney)

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Jayden Chestnut finally got her first taste of the Women’s College World Series. Through four games of the tournament the Oklahoma freshman had only watched as Paige Parker pitched every inning.

But with Parker getting the night off Tuesday, Chestnut finally got the call she had been waiting on. Unfortunately for her, she was on the wrong end of one of the most remarkable comebacks and finishes in World Series history as the Sooners lost 11-7 to Auburn at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

“Quite a game,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “Another tough game for two teams that played really hard. Jayden Chestnut specifically fought her tail off tonight. I thought our offense came out and attacked early, then we just went a little stagnant. That hurt us. We make no excuses for the loss. We just needed to execute a little bit better.”

The game was tied at 7-7 heading into extra innings. When the Sooners didn’t score in the top of the eighth, it set up the Tigers to find a way to win it in the bottom of the inning.

After Chestnut got the first out, she allowed a bunt, a single and a walk to load the bases. That brought Auburn’s Emily Carosone to the plate. Chestnut delivered the first pitch and Carosone crushed a grand slam over the right field fence to end the game.

“Really right before I got in the box I was thinking, hit it hard, because if I hit it hard and it went somewhere, Victoria (Draper) was going to score no matter what,” Carosone said. “But I don’t know, that pitch was just there. It was – softball is a game of inches, and my bat was there. It’s amazing. God is good. God is good.”

The Tigers scored 11 straight runs to close out the game and tie the championship series at 1-1. It sets up a decisive Game 3 at 6 p.m. tonight with the winner being crowned the national champion.

Parker will be back on the mound for the Sooners. Not letting her pitch Tuesday was not a difficult decision for Gasso, who wanted her ace to be at 100 percent.

“Paige having this night off I think will help her tremendously for (Wednesday), and like I said, whether we have gas in our tank or not, we’re going to do everything we can tomorrow as a team,” Gasso said.

Malayka Martin picked up the win while Chestnut (9-1) suffered her first defeat of the season. She pitched 5.2 innings, allowed 11 hits, six runs and struck out three.

“I mean, I was always ready to go in, and I had a lot of excitement about it,” Chestnut said, “And my plan was to just go in and be fearless and keep us in the ballgame, and I think I executed that pretty well.”

Auburn’s Kaylee Carkson found herself in a jam at the very start. The Sooners had runners on second and third with Fale Avlu at the plate. Avlu hit a dribbler to second base and beat out the throw to knock in the first run of the game.

Kady Self added to the mounting problems in the second inning when she clobbered a solo homer into center field. Two straight defensive miscues by shortstop Whitney Jordan led to another run scoring.

The game was on the verge of getting out of hand when Caleigh Clifton and Shay Knighten laid down perfect bunts to plate two more runs.

After Sydney Romero singled in a run and Auburn had yet to register an out, Carlson was pulled for Rachel Walters. Nicole Pendley added another RBI before Auburn finally got out of the 2nd inning trailing 7-0.

Auburn quickly got over the shock of the onslaught and put three runs on the board in the bottom of the inning. Jordan did the honors with a 3-run homer off Stevens. An error by Self in left field allowed another run to score and Stevens was taken out of the game.

That brought Chestnut into the game. The Tigers loaded the bases and had an opportunity take the lead, but Chestnut struck out Jade Rhodes to end the inning leading 7-5.

The 11 total runs scored by both teams was the most in a single inning in championship series history.

Chestnut gave up a 2-run homer in the fourth inning that tied the game at 7-7. She kept the Tigers bats silent until the eighth.

“Yeah, it obviously didn’t turn out my way and it stings a little bit,” Chestnut said, “but I think it’s just motivation to come out tomorrow and just fight even harder.”

Now everything is riding on one game to win it all. The Sooners are confident they can get it done.

It’s about resiliency,” Erin Miller said. “It’s about how you answer. I think we’ve done a great job of that all season. Someone throws a punch, you throw it back. That’s the game of softball, I think. You’re going to see a dogfight tomorrow. It’s for a national championship; why wouldn’t you?”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtuth@gmail.com

Sooners title hopes still alive

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the second night in a row, Oklahoma faced a team it had played during the regular season. However, this matchup with Michigan in the Women’s College World Series carried a lot more weight than the early season matchup won by the Wolverines.

With a trip to the semifinals on the line, the Sooners held on to beat to beat the Wolverines 7-5 Saturday at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

Oklahoma will play at 8:30 p.m. tonight with a spot in the championship game up for grabs. They will face the winner of the Georgia and LSU tilt. The Sooners have to win just once to advance, while whoever they play will have to beat them twice due to the double elimination rules.

“Whatever comes our way, we talk about it,” OU coach Patti Gasso said. “We’re not afraid of anybody. We just know it’s our path and our journey. So whoever comes forward, we’re ready. That’s all we’ve been doing.”

However, it took everything the Sooners had to put themselves in this position.

Oklahoma took a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. Aiden Faulk and Lindsey Montemarano each came up with RBI singles to cut deficit to 7-5.

That brought Abby Ramirez to the plate with the bases loaded for Michigan. She worked the count full before grounded out to ended the game.

“I think the great thing about this team is there is a different hero every inning, every game, every pitch,” Oklahoma’s Erin Miller said. “I think we’re all just trying to contribute any way we can.”

Paige Parker (35-3) picked up the win after pitching a complete game. She allowed five runs and 12 hits while striking out eight.

“The top of their lineup is very, very tough,”Parker said. “Just trying to minimize anything they do. And just try to do my best to get them out. Let my defense work behind me.”

Shay Knighten led OU with two its and two RBIs.

It didn’t take long for Sooners to strike early in the night.

In her first at bat since hitting a walk off homer Friday night, Knighten hit a dribbler up the middle to knock in two runs. She later scored after stealing third and reaching home on an error to take a 3-0 lead.

Michigan tried to hit back in the bottom of the second when they had runners on second and third and one out. But Parker got Montemarano to pop out and Amanda Vargas to ground out to end the inning.

Sydney Romero got the Oklahoma fans on their feet in the top of the third when she crushed a solo homer to put OU up 4-0.

“I had a game-plan on that at bat,” Romero said. “I stuck with it and it got me a homerun.”

Oklahoma put constant pressure on Michigan’s Megan Betsa by being aggressive on the base paths. That led to six stolen bases for OU.

Michigan got on the board when Faulk smashed a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.

The Wolverines loaded the bases for Sierra Romero, who hit a roller up the third base line to her sister. Sydney tried to throw her out, but it was too late. Sierra was safe and a run scored to close the gap to 4-3.

“i really wanted to throw her out,” Sydney laughed. “I was rooting for her. But I wasn’t at the same time. That was the toughest part. At the end of the day I had to play it just like a normal game.”

Nicole Pendley added to the Sooner’s homerun total when she hit a towering shot over the right field fence in the sixth. Oklahoma extended its lead to 5-3.

After pitching eight innings the night before, Parker was being hit all over the field by the Michigan batters. However, base running mistakes by the Wolverines got Parker out of the sixth inning undamaged. Oklahoma plated two more runs in the seventh to give them some breathing room. It was too much for Michigan to overcome.

“I just think we took a little while to get going,” Sierra Romero said. “And they got the first punch in and we should have just tried to come out a little bit better.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eeyamtruth@gmail.com

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