NORMAN - Behind a complete effort from its pitching staff and timely hitting, No. 10 seed Oklahoma (51-9) defeated Arkansas (31-24) in an elimination game, 5-3, Saturday night in the Norman Regional.
OU advances to take on North Dakota State in another elimination game Sunday at Marita Hynes Field. First pitch is set for 1:30 p.m. CT. The winner of that meets Tulsa in the Regional championship Sunday at 4 p.m. TV designations are still to be determined.
The win improved the Sooners' record to 11-9 all-time in Regional elimination games, including a 10-8 mark under head coach Patty Gasso. Oklahoma had never gone 0-2 in Regional play. The victory was also the 100th in the postseason for OU, tying Cal for third most in NCAA history.
Paige Parker (21-5) earned the win in relief by tossing 4.1 shutout innings, while Paige Lowary closed the door on the Razorbacks (31-24) by picking up the final seven outs to grab her eighth save of the season and match the Big 12 single-season save record set by Baylor's Lisa Ferguson in 2004.
At the plate, Big 12 Freshman of the Year kept up her stellar season by going 3-4 with a run scored. She leads the team with eight games this year with at least three hits and extended her hitting streak to 17 games and her on-base streak to 31 straight contests. Both the are the longest of her career and the longest by a Sooner this year. In fact, her on-base streak is the longest at OU since Amber Flores also had a 31-game streak in 2009. To cap off her night, Mendes also made a diving catch in right field and got an out in the circle.
Junior Nicole Pendley and sophomore Sydney Romero also enjoyed multi-hit games, while sophomore Shay Knighten drove in a pair of runs and walked twice. Fellow sophomore Caleigh Clifton was hit by a pitch twice in the game and now has 23 on the year to set the program's single-season record. Her 39 career HBP already rank third in team history.
Playing as the visitors, Oklahoma came out firing in the top of the first.
With two out, Knighten was walked on four pitches before sophomore Fale Aviu singled up the middle. Romero batted next and smashed a line drive off the glove of A.J. Belans at shortstop to drive in Knighten with the game's first run. On the very next pitch, Pendley drove a single up the middle to double the lead to 2-0 as Aviu came home.
Arkansas had an answer though in the bottom of the inning, taking the lead at 3-2 and scoring the most runs in the first inning by any opponent this year.
With no one out and two on, Tori Cooper tied the game with a single to center field. Later in the inning, Madison Yannetti lifted a sacrifice fly to right field with the bases loaded to put the Razorbacks on top.
Oklahoma delivered its counter-punch in the top of the second, tying the game at 3-3.
Junior Kelsey Arnold got the rally started with a one-out single up the middle. Mendes then followed with a single back to the pitcher. Clifton's second hit by pitch of the game filled the bases, while Knighten tied the game with a sacrifice fly of her own to right field.
The score held until the fourth when Oklahoma pulled in front thanks to some erratic pitching from Arkansas' Grace Moll. Mendes did the work as she singled with two outs, advanced to second and third on wild pitches and then came home on another wild pitch as Clifton walked.
Arkansas threatened to tie the game or pull in front in the fifth, but a trio of pitchers combined to thwart the threat. Belans walked with one out and Mendes came in from right field to relieve Parker in the circle. Known as a ground-ball pitcher, she got Arkansas's leading home run hitter, Nicole Schroeder, to ground into a fielder's choice. A hit by pitch and single loaded the bases, but Lowary entered in relief of Mendes and got Ashely Diaz to ground out to first on the very first pitch to keep OU in front.
Oklahoma got some breathing room in the sixth with an insurance run.
Arnold drew a one-out walk, while Mendes collected her third hit on a single to right center to put runners on the corners. Two batters later, Knighten drove in Arnold with a hard ground ball to third base that Autumn Russell was unable to come up with after a diving attempt.
The Razorbacks threatened again in the seventh as Cooper and Belans hit back-to-back singles to put runners into scoring position with no one out. Lowary shifted the momentum back to OU with a strikeout of Schroeder on a 3-2 pitch before fanning Yannetti looking and then striking out Katie Warrick on three pitches to end the game.