OKLAHOMA CITY – “We’re better than this,” Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso said in an on-field television interview during the fourth inning of Game Two in the WCWS championship series on Wednesday night.
Two innings later, the stumbling Sooners proved her right.
Jocelyn Alo’s two-run home run to right-center in the top of the sixth gave top-seeded OU (55-4) its first lead in two games against 10th-seeded Florida State (49-12-1). The Sooners would add three insurance runs to post a 6-2 victory and force a winner-take-all championship contest today at 2 p.m. at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.
OU will be seeking its fifth national title since 2000.
“The momentum is definitely on our side,” Gasso said afterward. “This team felt really good, very excited about how they won. Even though it was late in the game, it’s a victory that puts us in a championship game to win it all, and that’s a big deal for this group. They fought very hard throughout the season to get here. So should be an exciting day tomorrow.”
Through five innings, it appeared the Sooners’ record-shattering season would end with a thud despite eclipsing all-time Division I records in team batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored and home runs.
All that changed with one swing of the bat from Alo, who added to her school single-season record by clubbing her 33rd homer. “I knew I was feeling good out there the whole game,” Alo said. “So it was just a matter of staying calm and trying to hit a pitch hard. And I saw it. And I smacked it.”
Rather than going into her usual home-run trot, Alo basically sprinted around the bases. “I think the last time I circled the bases that quickly was probably my freshman year, my first-ever home run,” Alo said with a smile.
That same dinger pushed OU past Hawaii’s previous single-season record of 158 set in 2010 while also giving the Sooners the single-season record for total runs.
With so much attention focused on OU’s struggles at the plate, lost in the mix was another steady performance Sooners senior lefthander Giselle Juarez (22-1), who has excelled in all four of her WCWS outings. Juarez scattered four hits, struck out six and walked three in going the distance. Her lone hiccup was allowing a 2-run homer in the bottom of the second.
“I was just super pumped,” Juarez said of getting the necessary run support. “My hitters gave us a chance to win that game. I just had to do my job, and that’s what I did. I’m excited because now we’re right there (for the championship). … I did settle in (after allowing the home run). I think my hitters came up to me and they were like, ‘We’ve got you. We have your back.’ I think for me it was all about keeping them in that game. They had my back. They’re always going to have my back.”
After hiding in the shadows toward the end of the season, Juarez has thrust herself back into the role of undeniably being the staff ace.
“You’re seeing a very free Giselle Juarez, which is what we did see in 2019,” Gasso said. “But it’s a different G. It’s very determined, very determined, unfazed right now. It’s really exciting to see that.”
OU has struggled early in games the entire WCWS, scoring just 10 total runs in the first three innings, then adding 34 runs in the last four innings.
After 12 innings of Sooners hitters persistently hitting balls directly at FSU defenders, OU hits suddenly started finding holes in the final two innings.
The Sooners finished with 11 hits. They had eight hits in the final two innings and could have widened the score had they not stranded five runners on base. Every starter in the OU lineup is now hitting at least .300.
Alo went 3 for 3 and scored two runs. First baseman Kinzie Hansen and leftfielder Mackenzie Donihoo each went 2 for 4. Third baseman Jana Johns put OU on the scoreboard with a towering solo shot down the left-field line in the third inning.
“It was just a matter of just passing the torch,” Alo said. “One hitter goes, another hitter goes, another hitter goes. So just kind of keeping that ball rolling.”
Gasso said, “It was definitely Jocelyn Alo that kind of created this energy and everybody just started to step up behind her. We felt momentum come. We were just dead silent there for a while. After Jana Johns hit her solo home run it was ground ball after ground ball. Everybody was a little frustrated. We kept trying to rally and talk about things and make adjustments. Things just weren’t working very well and that’s a credit to Florida State’s pitching staff.”
Defense also played a key role. After committing a season-high three errors in Game One, the Sooners were error-free Wednesday.
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