Juarez's No-Hitter Leads OU to Regional Final

John Rohde
By John Rohde
SoonerSports.com Contributor

NORMAN – Oklahoma’s 4-0 shutout victory over Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Marita Hynes Field proved Oklahoma junior left-hander Giselle Juarez no longer is perfect at the NCAA Norman Regional.

But she is not far off.

On Friday night, Juarez pitched the first three innings of a combined perfect game alongside teammates Mariah Lopez and Shannon Saile in a 12-0 run-rule decision over Maryland-Baltimore County.

Afterward, UMBC coach Chris Kuhlmeyer said his team would have to “play a perfect game, make perfect pitches, play perfect defense” to have a chance at beating OU.

Instead, it was the Sooners’ pitching trio that was perfect as they assembled the first combined perfect game in NCAA Tournament history while combining for 12 strikeouts in five innings.

Sixteen hours later against the hard-hitting Badgers (41-13), Juarez once again delivered a no-hitter during her work shift and struck out 16 by herself while pitching a complete game.

Her only blemishes Saturday were allowing two batters to reach first base – a hit-by-pitch in the second inning and a walk in the sixth.

Juarez’ season record remains a perfect 24-0 and the transfer from Arizona State has left Sooners coach Patty Gasso shaking her head while trying to find the proper words to describe what Juarez has done thus far in the regional.

“We’re getting spoiled here,” Gasso said afterward. “To do this in regionals is unheard of. … She was in the zone last night. She was in the zone today. All her pitches are working … She is nails out there.”

Juarez matter-of-factly explained what transpired Saturday as follows: “Today was just about trusting my pitches.”

The top-ranked, top-seeded Sooners (51-2) have now won 41 straight games overall, a single-season Division I record. OU’s only losses this season have come against then-No. 1 Florida State (Feb. 15) and then-No. 2 UCLA (Feb. 22).

The Sooners also won their 49th consecutive home game to advance to Sunday’s regional championship round that starts at 1 p.m. Unless it loses twice Sunday, OU will host a Super Regional next weekend against the Northwestern Regional victor.

Designated as the visiting team, OU took a 1-0 lead at the top of the first as Big 12 Player of the Year Sydney Romero opened with a base hit to left. Fale Aviu sacrificed Romero to second and she went to third on a Caleigh Clifton single down the left-field line. Clifton has now reached base in 33 straight games.

Romero scored on Clifton’s delayed steal to second, which wound up being a throwing error on the catcher.

The Sooners failed to extend the lead when they left the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, but they pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fifth when Clifton reached on a single up the middle, stole second and scored on Grace Green’s single to right that chased Wisconsin starter Haley Hestekin (17-5).

Clifton closed out the scoring with a two-run homer to left-center in the seventh. It was her 16th homer of the season.

Though Juarez flirted with perfection against the Badgers, the Sooners were anything but perfect at the plate and on the base paths. Despite posting their 25th shutout of the season, there was little celebrating afterward. OU had eight hits, but left six runners stranded and committed mental errors at the plate and on the bases.

“It’s a win, but in the locker room our team had the mentality almost like they lost,” Gasso said. “Good teams find ways to win when things aren’t exactly the way they want them and that’s what they did today.”

But, of course, there was Juarez.

“Giselle was phenomenal,” Gasso said. “I’m really proud of her focus and knowing this team is not really in its normal zone, but she was there for us.”