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OU softball: Sooners dominant in series sweep of Team Mexico, building momentum as Big 12 play nears

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The Sooners celebrate with freshman infielder Tiare Jennings during the game against Liberty in the Hall of Fame Tournament at the USA Softball Hall Of Fame Stadium on March 14.

Senior infielder Grace Lyons stepped up to the plate with two runners on in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

Oklahoma was holding a comfortable 9-3 lead over Team Mexico and Lyons was looking to add to it. She launched the first pitch she saw over the left field fence to not just add to the lead, but end the game. 

No. 1 Oklahoma (22-0) run-ruled Team Mexico, 12-3, in five innings Sunday afternoon to sweep the Olympic-bound team. The sweep was an outcome many didn’t see coming, but for the Sooners, it was expected.

“We knew we were playing elite athletes and I was really proud of our team,” head coach Patty Gasso said in a Friday press conference. “We wanted to make a statement early and grab the first game and we did it.”

Friday’s matchup was highlighted by senior catcher Lynnsie Elam. Elam, who has been splitting time with sophomore catcher Kinzie Hansen behind the plate, hasn’t played much this season for OU. 

She was a two-year starter heading into this season, but with the stacked Sooner lineup, Gasso is having a tough time finding ways to get her involved. When she got her chance during the weekend, she delivered. Elam went 4-for-4 in the first game of the series leading OU with three RBIs and a solo home run.  

“I’m really proud of Lynnsie Elam,” Gasso said. “She got her opportunity and made the most of it. I was really impressed.”

The weekend was dominated by OU in all areas of play. Offensively, Oklahoma put up 25 runs over the three games, including 11 and 12 run performances. 

On Saturday, freshman Tiare Jennings stole the show. In a game that ended in a final score of 2-1, runs were at a premium. Jennings was one of just two Sooners who tallied more than one hit, going 3-for-3 on the day including a walk-off single.

Jennings shined even with Team Mexico ace Sierra Hyland, one of the top pitchers in the world, in the circle. She shut down OU for most of the game, but Jennings showed she might be one of the best hitters in the world, lining three singles in her three at-bats.

“She has turned herself into something unbelievable,” Gasso said of Jennings in a Saturday press conference. “I don’t know if I have ever seen a freshman at that level since I have been coaching. Her swing is almost mechanically perfect, and her decision making is incredible.” 

Sunday saw a plethora of Sooners contribute. OU put up 12 runs on 15 hits and three home runs, including the walk-off run-rule blast by Lyons. The Sooners have shown this season it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. They’ll have nine players who can get the job done and put runs on the board if needed.

OU’s pitching staff also impressed against the Team Mexico lineup over the series. The Sooners got complete games from seniors Giselle “G” Juarez and Shannon Saile. 

Juarez was dominant to open up the series Friday. She went six innings, allowing just two hits, no runs, two walks and recorded four strikeouts. Saile came on in relief of Juarez to close the game out, going the final inning and retiring the side in order.

Juarez, who’s performance could have impacted her chances of playing for Team Mexico in the future, had arguably her best performance of the season in the Friday matchup. 

“Giselle finds herself in an interesting spot fighting for a spot on Team Mexico right now,” Gasso said Friday. “She really made a statement with her performance tonight. Two hitting that team is saying something.”

After collecting the save Friday, Saile started in the circle Saturday and picked up right where she left off. She went all seven innings allowing just three hits, one run, two walks and recorded five strikeouts. Gasso had nothing but praise for pitching staff post series, a unit which only allowed four runs to an Olympic team. 

“Shannon was impressive,” Gasso said. “She was ready to go eight if she needed to. She has made a big leap from last year and has been great for us so far this year.”

“I’m really loving what our pitching staff is doing right now. Doing what they did this weekend is impressive and something we can build on moving forward.”

Ultimately, Oklahoma’s dominance over Olympic-level talent shows that it can compete on any stage. The Sooners’ ultimate stage isn’t the Olympics, but just down the road in Oklahoma City at the Women’s College World Series. 

As the Sooners proved this weekend, they have the capability to compete and beat anyone in the country and will look to continue doing so as they move forward into Big 12 play next week.

The conference slate will be stout, with the Big 12 boasting three teams ranking in the top 25, but Oklahoma doesn't seem to be intimidated by even the toughest task.

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