Having to play two on Saturday after being upset in the opening game by this season's WCWS Cinderella team James Madison, the No. 1-seeded Sooners revealed their outstanding resilience with an 8-0 run-rule shutout over Georgia at the first match of the afternoon, and followed with another powerful performance in beating No, 2 UCLA in their next game of the day.
No one predicted the Sooners (52-3) and Bruins (47-7), the two teams ranked No. 1 and 2 most of the 2021 season, could be playing in a Saturday elimination match. This was the matchup that was expected to take place from the best-of-three championship show.
Instead, it was a showdown of their last two teams to perform to get a WCWS championship. Even the Bruins and their All-American, all-everything pitcher Rachel Garcia spanned the Sooners two games to none for the 2019 national tournament, the final time the WCWS was held because of the COVID-19 pandemic year in 2020.
The Sooners were set into a hole early in Saturday night's rematch since Garcia connected on a three-run, home-run blast in the third inning from OU freshman starter Nicole May. After the following hitter doubled, collecting the fourth struck from May at the inning, head trainer Patty Gasso went to the bullpen and brought in fifth-year senior"G" Jaurez, the complete-game winner earlier in the day over Georgia, who captured the final two outs.
That would be all the scoring the demanding UCLA lineup would be able to produce. The Sooners got back in the match with two runs in their half of the next inning, the big blast coming to some two-out triple by Jocely Alo. They followed with two more in the fourth to take a 4-3 lead, one run in the fifth and a five-spot from the decisive sixth inning that prolonged a 5-3 advantage to 10-3.
The Bruins went quietly in the seventh, leaving Oklahoma to advance to Sunday and sending the reigning national winners home.
Oklahoma will get the opportunity to avenge its loss to James Madison at a rematch in the college softball version of NCAA Football's Final Four. But the Sooners will need to beat the Dukes and their glorious pitching ace Oddici Alexander double on Sunday to move ahead to the WCWS championship series, which begins on Monday at ASA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.
Three large takeaways from Saturday's doubleheader dandy:
The Oklahoma bats came alive on Saturday, but you can't overlook the genius of Giselle Juarez, who started and ended OU's win over Georgia at the opening match of the day. She followed that with an equally masterful performance, shutting down the powerful UCLA crime in 5 1/3 innings of relief.
For the day, Juarez allowed no runs and just six joint hits, striking out 13 and inventing two walks in 11 1/3 innings pitched. She was the winning pitcher in the two matches and is currently 20-1 on the season.
"Mighty Mite" Donihoo muscles up in both matches
Head trainer Patty Gasso calls for her"Mighty Mite," and on Saturday, on the biggest stage in school softball, sophomore Mackenzie Donihoo revealed why. She entered Saturday, with six home runs on the season, the only participant in the Oklahoma starting lineup from Georgia with fewer than 10 home runs.
On Saturday, Donihoo muscled up to strike three out of the yard. She had a few singles in the match.
Then, after back-to-back strikeouts to start the next game against UCLA, the Mustang, Oklahoma, native hit bombs at the fifth and sixth innings. Her three-run knock in the first time iced the game for the Sooners.
Her numbers for the afternoon: Five hits in seven at bats. Seven RBI and three runs scored. Mighty, indeed.
Will the Sooners have enough gas at the take to remain alive after Sunday?
There's little question that having to play two games on Saturday took a lot out of the Sooners. The larger issue is, how much to they have left, having to survive four matches and two long days of softball, and will it be sufficient for them to progress and remain alive with a chance to bring home their fifth national championship.
An extremely tall task, but if any group has the ability and the determination to get the work done and complete the improbable comeback, it is this Oklahoma team.
In her postgame interview following the triumph over UCLA, Patty Gasso acknowledged that her group's legs were tired from having to play two matches on a warm and humid day in Oklahoma City, but adrenaline occurs since you know what's at stake, she said
"We have worked extremely hard all season," she said. "You can not have any excuses when you enter the Final Four. We've got to beat an excellent team, double, so we've got to put everything we've got on the field tomorrow."