Juarez's Gem Leads OU to Win Over Northwestern

John Rohde
By John Rohde
SoonerSports.com Contributor

NORMAN – The Oklahoma softball team scored three runs on three hits Friday afternoon.

Many times this season, those numbers would represent one inning for the top-ranked Sooners, but that was their final tally in an opening-round game against Northwestern at the NCAA Norman Super Regional.

A sellout of 1,868 at Marita Hynes Field watched top-seeded OU post a 3-0 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series that continues with a 3 p.m. game Saturday.

The number of hits don’t matter at this time of season. Runs always matter more, no matter what time of year.

“We’re happy to get wins and we’re not looking at the numbers,” Sooners coach Patty Gasso said. “I told these guys, ‘We could strike out 14 times and have two hits and still finds ways to win games.’ ”

The series opener against the Wildcats (47-12) wasn’t quite that extreme, but OU (53-3) had twice as many strikeouts as hits. But again, Gasso still smiled.

“Right now, it’s not the numbers, it’s about getting the W,” Gasso said. “I’m very proud of this group and how they found a way to get the first win, which is extremely important … We’re in the postseason. We’re not blowing people out because everybody who’s staying alive has got really good pitching.”

The Sooners certainly have good pitching in junior left-hander Giselle Juarez (26-1), who struck out 11 and walked two in a complete game that was OU’s 27th shutout of the season.

Gasso said her players understand the importance of winning the series opener. “It allows you to extend the pitching staff,” said Gasso, who did not share Saturday’s starter.

The Sooners managed to beat Northwestern standout freshman left-hander Danielle Williams (31-7), who is one of three finalists for the NFCA National Freshman of the Year Award to be presented at next week’s Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year kept the Sooners off-balance with an array of pitches ranging from her 65-mph fastball to a 37-mph change-up.

Afterward, Gasso called Williams “exceptional.”

The Sooners showed patience at the plate drawing four walks against Williams. They also fought to force as many pitches as possible from Williams, which explains her throwing 110 pitches in five innings of work.

OU players said they stuck with the game plan of hitting coach JT Gasso, a scheme they obviously refused to share since the series isn’t over.

Friday marked the third time this season the Sooners defeated Northwestern and ran the combined score to 18-0. OU beat the Wildcats 7-0 (March 8) and 8-0 (March 10) in Norman.

Northwestern, which placed second to Michigan in the conference standings, is 22-1 this season in games they scored in the first inning. The Wildcats had a chance to jump out in front of OU after getting runners on base with a single and a walk, but instead they left them stranded.

“I think for any pitcher, when you’re on the mound in the first inning, it’s important to try to get settled,” Patty Gasso said. “To me, sometimes the first inning is the hardest one to pitch because you’ve got nerves and you’re trying to deal with all that. For ‘G’ to get out of that was a big deal for us.”

The Sooners took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Jocelyn Alo’s line-drive double smacked the top of the centerfield wall to score Big 12 Player of the Year Sydney Romero.

“I just feel with this lineup, anything can happen at anytime,” Alo said. “We’re all just very confident in ourselves.”

OU didn’t get its second hit until the fifth inning with a Romero double to left-center. Caleigh Clifton knocked in Romero with an eerily similar at-bat that also resulted in a double to left-center to make the score 2-0.

Later that same inning, Shay Knighten’s hard grounder went through the legs of Northwestern third baseman Mac Dunlap to score Clifton and set the final margin.

With a victory Saturday, the Sooners would advance to their 13th WCWS this millennium and would be seeking their fifth national championship.