If past is prologue, Giselle Juarez will not pitch today and, at the very least, won’t begin in the circle today when Oklahoma and Northwestern resume their super regional at Marita Hynes Field.
Because when Sooner coach Patty Gasso believes she can win a non-elimination game without her best pitcher, she has tended to try to do just that, the bright side being her best pitcher being absolutely rested for the following elimination game, must it be faced.
It’s how, rather than Keilani Ricketts, Michelle Gascoigne — ironically, now Northwestern’s pitching coach — tossed the Sooners to the 2013 national championship over Tennessee.
It’s also how, after losing Game 2 of the 2016 WCWS championship series, Paige Parker pitched the Sooners past Auburn after a full day off.
Also, yeah, on a staff of three primary pitchers, all with terrific numbers, Juarez really is the best of the bunch and to pretend otherwise following Friday’s 3-0 Sooner victory is to do just that, pretend.
At least, that is, if you’re going to take Juarez and her coach’s word for it. Not that they said it so directly.
“I don’t think, like, I had my greatest stuff,” Juarez said, “but I don’t think it was bad either.”
Juarez walked a batter in the first inning and gave up a hit. With two outs, there were two Wildcats on base.
However, from that point forward, she retired 14 of 15 and struck out seven of them. She struck out 11 in all.
The only moment she faced a real threat following the first frame arrived in the sixth inning when Rachel Lewis led off with a double and a wild pitch from Juarez put her on third base with nobody out.
Yet, from there, Juarez struck Morgan Nelson out, got Maeve Nelson to hit a cotton soft liner to second base that would have broken her bat had she been swinging wood rather than aluminum and struck out Nikki Cuchran.
The Wildcats had three chances to get Lewis home and couldn’t do it and despite Juarez’ propensity to give credit away — “I think it all came down to trusting my defense,” she said — getting out of that frame and tossing her seventh shutout of the season and her third since NCAA play began, was pretty much all about her.
Her teammates were held to three hits, yet because they were all doubles and because Fale Aviu was allowed to reach second base on a passed ball after walking in the first inning and because Northwestern third baseman Mac Dunlap allowed a ball to get through her in the fifth inning, those three hits added up to three runs.
On a day no Sooner had more than a single hit and Wildcat pitcher Danielle Williams’ changeup made everybody but Sydney Romero look foolish, Juarez had no choice but to be fantastic and she was.
Even if she did it without “my greatest stuff.”
If anybody was going to disagree with her, you’d figure it would be Gasso.
“I agree with her,” Gasso said. “That is where the level of excellence is at.”
Meaning, the level of attainable, even expected excellence is so high, Juarez did not reach it. Of course, her expectations are higher than what she managed Friday, she may not be the best pitcher on her team, but in the nation, too.
“She only gave up two hits, but there were times that she was not efficient,” Gasso said. “When you miss a pitch, you want it to be close enough that they might attempt [to swing at it]. But her misses were not as close to the strike zone as they normally are, so she had to throw a few more pitches.”
Maybe, but Juarez threw 105 pitches over seven innings, which doesn’t seem like a heck of a lot, and struck out 11 and walked two, which seems like a whole lot and not very many.
It’s tempting to roll her back out there today and, should it not go well, again on Sunday.
Softball is like that.
A pitcher can get tired, but it’s not baseball. The underhanded motion allows a hurler to take the circle every day if she must, even pitch both halves of a doubleheader should it be required.
Yet, not having to go that route’s a luxury. And because Juarez was fabulous — or, in her words, not “bad” — the Sooners don’t need her today.
If they really need her again, she’ll be there for them Sunday.
Were she merely OU’s hottest pitcher, the one of the moment, it might be different. But she’s not. She’s much better than that.
For the Sooners, it’s a very good place to be and Juarez is not just the benefactor of it, but the reason why they're there.