OKLAHOMA CITY — On any channel, at any time, Giselle Juarez was amazing.
Maybe Jocelyn Alo was, too, putting the Sooners on top for good both Wednesday and Thursday. And Mackenzie Donihoo was a revelation, at the plate and in the field, both, must-see viewing from the seats and press box at Hall of Fame Stadium and later when everybody got home, turned on SportsCenter and waited to see which spot in the top 10 her latest and greatest catch would put her.
But Oklahoma might have won it all without Alo and might have won it all, too, without Donihoo, yet it’s hard to believe it would have been anywhere without Juarez, who pitched the best softball of her life, not only on the sport’s greatest annual stage and not only two years after UCLA hit her hard on the same stage, but pretty much two years, too, since she’d offered the form she offered Wednesday and Thursday on any stage at all.
Who’s done what she did?
Many have come back from injury and surgery to be terrific, some to yet again be the best, but who has come back only to find that what used to be there is no longer there and to then be passed over, to become one whose time appeared passed, to then find their confidence, their fearlessness, their form, and go from being the No. 3 pitcher on their own team to the No. 1 pitcher in the entire nation in the space of a week.
That’s what Juarez did.
Oklahoma beat Florida State 5-1 Thursday afternoon, winning the program’s fifth national championship. The 2021 trophy will go next to the ones won in 2000, 2013, 2016 and 2017.
The Sooners had been ranked No. 1 pretty much all season long, yet the title they just won might be their most unlikely.
Having lost their opener, coach Patty Gasso opted to role the dice with Juarez, who’d started only one postseason game, against lowly Morgan State, who’d allowed three runs over three innings in her last appearance, against Wichita State, who did not throw a pitch in the super regional round against Washington.
All she did was pitch her team to a national championship, rightly get named most outstanding player of the Women’s College World Series, notch the win in five of OU’s six victories at the tournament, throw 31 1/3 innings, allow 16 hits and four runs, strike out 38 and walk eight.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what that makes her earned run average over the tourney, it’s 0.89, a figure that had she put it together over the regular season, would rank No. 1 nationwide among pitchers to throw more than 16 innings, only she didn’t do it in the regular season, she did it under far more difficult circumstances, against the best teams in the country at the World Series.
It’s too much.
Juarez did not want the credit. Indeed, she offered it to a higher power.
“The beginning of the season wasn’t great for me, but I just kept grinding and trusting God’s plan for myself,” she said. “He had this moment planned for me, so I think … it just feels surreal to me.”
Her faith is her own, belongs to her and nobody shall take it away. Yet, no matter what force put her in the circle on Thursday and all the days before, she did it, she delivered, she overcame.
Her 19th and 20th outs, Cassidy Davis and Dani Morgan, were strikeouts looking. Her 27th, a weak popup from Devyn Flaherty, she fielded herself.
“I was kind of hoping it didn’t go in the sun,” she said.
Juarez put a floor under her team, gave it a chance and got it to Thursday, when she got the last three outs herself.
It’s tempting to say some stories write themselves, but this one doesn’t, because it’s too improbable, all but the fact it happened.
“I remember last year, whenever she got hurt and her not knowing if she would be able to come back. I remember two years ago in ’19, being on the other side of this … and her pitching her heart out,” said Nicole Mendes, who offered plenty of highlights herself. “To see her come back from both of those two big adversities and to be where she is, I can only smile.”
“She just came out on fire this weekend,” said Jayda Coleman, who smashed a second inning home run, giving the Sooners a rare early lead.
It was eight days in all.
Eight days, more World Series games than have ever been played, more days than it’s ever taken to play them.
Giselle Juarez did it.
She just did it.
It was amazing.