Redshirt senior pitcher Shannon Saile stepped into the circle with the bases loaded, one strike away from ending the bottom of the third inning.
She read the signs from sophomore catcher Kinzie Hansen and took one final deep breath as Iowa State was looking to cut into Oklahoma’s 5-1 lead. With all of the pressure on Saile’s shoulders, she didn’t disappoint.
Saile fired a pitch that struck out the batter and left all three runners on base stranded. Her career-high 11 strikeouts helped propel the Sooners to a 10-2 victory in their second game against Iowa State (23-8, 0-3 Big 12) and clinched the series. With the win, the No. 1 Sooners (25-0, 3-0) attained the best season start in program history.
𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐯𝐞. '𝐄𝐦. 𝐒𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝.Saile with her 7⃣th K to leave 'em loaded and we head to the fourth!OU 5, ISU 1 | 📺 Big 12 NOW on ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/uHDOQk30jq— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) March 27, 2021
Despite going through a few rough moments over the weekend, the Sooners’ pitching staff showed why opposing teams can’t just focus on OU’s offensive power. The pitching staff allowed only 11 hits in its three-game series against the Cyclones, who have plenty of firepower on offense.
Redshirt senior pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez also had an 11-strikeout performance in the series opener. However, Juarez gave up five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, nearly costing the Sooners the game in a 9-7 victory.
“I want our pitchers to relax and, for some reason, I think at times our pitchers feel like they have to be perfect, which is completely the opposite of what we need from them,” head coach Patty Gasso said in a Wednesday press conference. “We just need quality pitches and strikes.”
Last weekend’s series also saw appearances from freshman pitcher Nicole May and sophomores Alanna Thiede and Olivia Rains. May registered six strikeouts on 18 batters faced and allowed two hits in the third game of the series.
Rains and Thiede both appeared in relief roles as they pitched in the final innings of the second and third games, respectively. Rains didn’t allow any hits during her time in the circle and Thiede only allowed two.
After putting out a strong showing against the Cyclones, the pitching staff has made even more progress after Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices. Gasso said the last two days of pitching have been the best she has seen this season.
“We had the speakers going with booing sounds and clapping,” Saile said. “It was kind of all over the place but everyone locked in.
“There wasn’t a single pitcher that didn’t lock in and every pitcher lived up to those moments and did really well. It was really awesome to see our staff come together like that.”
The Sooners are currently ranked second in the nation in total shutouts this season with 13 and ranked 13th in the nation in earned run average at 1.48. Saile is also ranked first in hits allowed per seven innings at 1.65 and fifth in earned run average at 0.47, entering OU’s three-game series against Kansas (17-11, 1-2) beginning Thursday.
Yet, the thought of going undefeated this season could pose a psychological threat to the pitching staff.
“When you fail, I think it shows what you need to work on,” Saile said. “Ultimately, what we want is to be holding the trophy up at the end of the season and we know that multiple failures along the way to get to that road is what we’re going to need in order to see what we’re lacking.”