Junior Lynnsie Elam watched her teammates flood out of the third base dugout and swarm her after she hit a walk-off single to propel the Sooners to a 3-2 victory over Missouri State on Saturday.
But what proved to be most important for the Sooners all weekend was the pitching staff's achievement of the standard OU is used to putting in the circle.
Oklahoma picked up wins over Mercer, Utah, Murray State and Missouri State over the weekend — a slate of games that, to the naked eye, doesn’t hold much importance. But the way the Sooners won these games was a sign of hope for a team full of fresh faces and injured veterans.
OU's pitching staff showed their first full weekend of consistency — with senior All-American Giselle “G” Juarez sidelined — and showed they may have the potential to rebound from their early struggles.
The Sooners gave up just three runs Saturday against Murray State and Missouri State behind redshirt freshman Brooke Vestal and freshman Olivia Rains.
“Today felt really exciting,” coach Patty Gasso said. “Brooke Vestal really set a wonderful tone, and we've been waiting for some consistency throughout. And she really threw well, and I think that fed right into Olivia Rains.”
Vestal pitched the full seven innings against Murray State, and she gave up just three hits and set a career-high eight strikeouts. Rains gave up two runs in the first inning but settled in after, and she threw four scoreless against Missouri State.
Gasso has shown frustration in the past with the pitching staff giving up walks, but this weekend the Sooners’ staff gave up just four combined across four games.
“Minimize based on balls, and keep the ball in the park,” Gasso said. “If you do that, we will win.”
This year’s team has looked different from previous years, both in personnel and results. They’ve lost games to unranked North Texas and Long Beach State — just one year removed from a 41-game win streak, due in large part to Juarez’s All-American season.
In Juarez’s absence, senior Shannon Saile has inserted herself as the No. 1 pitcher in the Sooners’ rotation. Saile pitched five innings against No. 25 Utah and gave up two runs on five hits, but Gasso said those runs were the defense’s fault.
“I like having the ball,” Saile said. “So that's what they need me to do in that moment. I'll do the best I can with every pitch I get. And I think the setbacks are good learning tools. It's better to learn it now than later in the season and postseason.”
Saile went from being the No. 3 pitcher behind Juarez and former Sooner Mariah Lopez — who transferred to Arizona — to being the go-to arm in big games or when a hold is needed out of the bullpen.
Saile leads the Big 12 in appearances made and ranks fourth in starts, but she also leads the conference in saves. The team's ability to lean on her in either role has been a huge factor to keeping runs off the board.
“She has a fire in her that not everybody has,” Elam said on Friday. “It's really cool to be able to be on the field with her — not only on the field, but back there with her each and every pitch.”
The Sooners have less than two weeks until their Big 12 opener against No. 3 Texas on March 20. With no clear timetable on Juarez’s return, Saile and the pitching staff can build on this weekend's performance.
“Shannon right now just has the confidence and control that allows her to do the things she wants to do,” Gasso said.
Oklahoma’s staff will look to continue its recent play against New Mexico State at 3 p.m. March 13 in Norman.