Last weekend in the Courtyard Marriott Tournament, the Sooners found themselves with junior Jocelyn Alo in center field, freshmen in right field, first base and second base, and someone not named Giselle “G” Juarez in the circle.
Oklahoma has been hit by the injury bug this season — with just one healthy substitution over the weekend — and found familiar faces in new positions and true freshmen who were forced to grow up knowing no one could replace them.
The Sooners are not only suffering injuries, but also embracing a new role they are not accustomed to playing.
“Right now, we’re thinking of ourselves as the underdog,” Alo said. “So I feel like a lot of people are going to doubt us. But we're working hard every day, and we're just ready to shock the world.”
It’s hard to bet against the Patty Gasso-led Sooners who have solidified themselves in the pinnacle of college softball, making seven of the last eight Women’s College World Series.
“The cards got dealt to us in some really crazy ways,” Gasso said. “And I wasn't expecting much of any kind of setback at all, in the way of who we are and, you know, what we could accomplish. But right now with the way things are going, we're just trying to stay ahead of the game.”
Oklahoma — ranked No. 6 in the country by the National FastPitch Coaches Association poll — is still among the best teams in college softball — and, when completely healthy, could have experience with young depth players who are growing up fast.
Juarez has only pitched just over six innings on the year. The former first-team All-American was bolstering the rotation heading into 2020 after Mariah Lopez transferred to Arizona.
“I think she's very frustrated and she wants to help,” Gasso said. “And she's trying to be positive and help the pitchers, but she's just heart-aching because she can't step in and do the things she's normally doing.”
Due to injury, senior Shannon Saile, who has been a career reliever for the Sooners, has been forced to lead the staff. Saile leads the team in innings pitched, earned runs average and strikeouts, and she is the lone healthy pitcher who isn’t a freshman.
“Freshman year in general, it's tough,” Saile said. “But I think they're really learning a lot, and I just want to be there for them the best that I can to help them elevate themselves and help them level up to what they want to be like. Hopefully, when I leave here, I left a mark on them.”
Gasso said Saile is trying to carry a pitching staff that desperately needs trusted arms to help pick up Juarez’s production.
“One thing I keep telling this team is, you know, freshmen — we’re throwing you out there. And there's no Giselle, don't look to the bullpen for her,” Gasso said.
Freshmen Macy McAdoo, Olivia Rains and Brooke Vestal have mostly picked up the slack in innings pitched during Juarez’s absence, but collectively they’ve been inconsistent.
The Sooners are counting on a multitude of different faces so far in 2020. They don’t have the players like Sydney Romero, Caleigh Clifton or Paige Parker to lean on, so they are focusing on garnering production from everyone collectively to earn wins.
“I think that they are understanding that they must do this together, and we can't count on Jocelyn (Alo) to hit the big home run,” Gasso said. “We can't count on our pitchers to get 14 strikeouts a game — we just got to play complete.”