OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma will live to play another day.
The Sooners survived two games on elimination Saturday at the Women’s College World Series off the arm of Giselle Juarez, who hadn’t been called on since regional play two weeks ago.
Juarez didn’t play in the Norman Regional championship win over Wichita State, didn’t pitch an inning in the super regional round against Washington and was absent against James Madison in the opening game of the WCWS. But the redshirt senior’s rested arm was everything the Sooners needed against Georgia and UCLA.
“Maybe these last couple weeks, she didn’t get to pitch quite as much and it just settled her mind,” Gasso said. “Like, ‘Why am I even standing in the bullpen waiting to be called, because I’ve been messing with my mind a little bit.’
“I think she really cleared that out and got right with herself and she had really good practices the last couple weeks and this is what showed today.”
After pitching 5 1/3 innings and recording 10 strikeouts in a six inning run-rule win over Georgia, Juarez didn’t start against UCLA. Instead — after a two hour and 17 minute rain delay — freshman Nicole May was in the circle for the first 2 1/3 innings.
May gave up a three-run home run to Bruin pitcher Rachel Garcia in the top of the third, and Juarez was called on to steady the tide.
Juarez finished the game, holding UCLA scoreless for five innings and leading OU to a 10-3 victory and a spot in the semifinals.
The Sooners last faced the Bruins in the championship series in 2019, when UCLA won in two games and dominated Juarez.
“She’s been waiting,” Gasso said. “She’s been throwing really well and feeling really good. She’s been waiting for this moment, a little bit of redemption. I know her season in 2019 ended with a couple tough outings against UCLA, so this was, I think, something a little personal to her, as well.”
After loading the bases in the top of the fifth by hitting a Bruin batter, Juarez retired the final seven straight batters she faced. Juarez picked up another four strikeouts in her five innings of work against UCLA (47-7).
As important as Juarez was, the Sooner bats were also flying in a way they hadn’t been against James Madison on Thursday.
OU (52-3) didn’t tie the game or take back the lead with one swing of the bat. The Sooners chipped away, starting with a triple to right from Jocelyn Alo — the first of her career — that scored Nicole Mendes.
Mendes scored three times for the Sooners.
Against Georgia, Mackenzie Donihoo was the hero. The left fielder hit a two-run home run in her first at bat to put the Sooners on the board and went 3-for-3 . In the night game, Donihoo struck out twice before hitting home runs across the fifth and sixth innings to extend the lead the Sooners had already built.
But it was Juarez who gave the best performance of the night. Heading into the weekend, Gasso said Juarez looked the best she had all season. She showed that all day Saturday, giving a performance that seemed like a return to the Juarez of 2019.
“The mental switch has been tremendous for her,” catcher Kinzie Hansen said. “When she came out on that mound… she came out on fire.”
OU will be back at Hall of Fame Stadium at noon Sunday to play James Madison, needing to beat the Dukes twice.
“It’s one game at a time for us,” Hansen said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”