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OU Softball: Juarez keep it going, bats back her up, Sooners win fifth national championship

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OU v Florida State WCWS Game 3

OU’s Giselle Juarez holds up the National Championship trophy as she celebrates with her team Thursday after the Sooners beat Florida State 5-1 in the final game of the best 2-of-3 WCWS championship series at Hall of Fame Stadium.

Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Determination shown on Giselle Juarez’s face as she wound up to deliver her eighth pitch to Devyn Flaherty.

Flaherty popped the ball into the air, back toward Juarez, and, before it even reached the top of its arc, the celebration had begun.

Middle infielders Grace Lyons and Tiare Jennings were already throwing their arms in the air as Juarez caught the ball, closing out a 5-1 win over Florida State and a fifth national championship for Oklahoma.

Juarez’s teammates rushed to dogpile her.

“It felt so slow motion,” Juarez said. “And then just to look up after I caught it and see (Kinzie) Hansen running at me, (it was a) surreal, awesome moment.”

The celebration continued as the players hugged in the middle of the field before being handed championship shirts, hats, towels and signs.

Coach Patty Gasso was all over the field, running into the middle of her team’s celebration, celebrating with her former players in the stands, and sharing a long embrace with Juarez minutes after it ended.

It was a moment of relief after a Women’s College World Series that saw the Sooners’ backs against the wall time and time again, ending the longest Women’s College World Series dominantly.

It was made possible in large part thanks to the arm of Juarez.

She recorded all three outs in that final inning, two called strikeouts and the pop up, a fitting way to end the tournament for the player who rose to the occasion more than anyone else.

Juarez underwent bicep surgery in March 2020 and didn’t pitch again until 2021. Throughout the season, she struggled to become the dominant pitcher she’d been in 2019.

Juarez hit her peak when OU (56-4) needed it most.

Over the course of the tournament, Juarez notched five of the Sooners’ six wins while giving up just four earned runs over 31 1/3 innings. The redshirt senior pitched complete games on back-to-back days to help lead OU to the title.

“Giselle, my heart just was overflowing with joy for her because it was a tough season for her,” Gasso said. “It was her super senior year. She had a lot of things to prove. 2019 didn’t finish the way she wanted, and went through some really tenacious surgery and rehab just to get back and play that last season.

What Juarez did in the circle, her teammates backed up at the plate.

The slow offensive starts that plagued OU earlier in the week were no longer. Jocelyn Alo drove a solo shot to left field in the first inning to start things off. Jayda Coleman followed her in the second inning with a solo home run and followed with a two-run double in the next inning.

“We knew that we wanted to set the tone pretty early,” Gasso said. “Jocelyn Alo is made differently. Made differently. When she puts her mind to something, she gets it done, whatever it is.”

To win the national championship, all the Sooners had to do was play like themselves, offering one of the cleanest games they’ve played this postseason, save a high fly ball lost in the sun that allowed FSU (49-13-1) to score its only run.

OU won it all in front of a packed Hall of Fame Stadium and a cheering section filled with members of the program’s championship fraternity. And they won by avenging every loss they suffered, at least twice.

The Sooners had already broken enough records to cement itself as the best offensive team in collegiate softball history and in combination with Juarez’s performances in the circle, they joined that same championship club that Patty Gasso began 21 years ago with the program’s first national championship, won in the same stadium, in front of many less people, in person and on television.

“Whenever I think of Oklahoma,” Nicole Mendes said, “I think of championships.

“This is what we do here.”

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