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'They don't want to go home': Sooners best UCLA; advance to Women's College World Series semifinals behind heroic performances

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Lynnsie Elam, Mackenzie Donihoo and Grace Lyons

Senior catcher Lynnsie Elam, sophomore infielder Mackenzie Donihoo and junior infielder Grace Lyons after Donihoo scored a home run during the Women’s College World Series game against UCLA on June 5.

Inside the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium’s locker rooms, the Sooners kept waiting.

The team was ready for its win-or-go-home matchup against UCLA, but Oklahoma was forced indoors as a tarp covered the field for what would become a two-hour rain delay. 

The postponement came just hours after its 8-0 run-rule victory over Georgia, and OU was now chomping at the bit to play the Bruins, who swept the Sooners in the 2019 Women’s College World Series final. Wondering how she could keep her team prepared during the wait, head coach Patty Gasso began to look around the room — only to realize the Sooners were battle ready as ever.

Gasso said she could see her team’s passion and focus as it tried to stay loose during the delay. This OU team, which Gasso believes is more tight-knit than any group she’s coached in her 26 years with the program, is unified behind one common desire which has lifted it to the WCWS semifinals.

“They don't want to go home,” Gasso said of Oklahoma’s 10-3 win over UCLA in a WCWS elimination game on Saturday. “They don't want to end their season. (Their) attitude is, ‘We didn't get this far just to get this far.’ ... It was such a great team effort tonight. I think that momentum will create itself again tomorrow. That's what I hope for.”

The Sooners’ win ended in decisive fashion, but it didn’t come without heroics.

Offensively, sophomore infielder Mackenzie Donihoo willed OU forward at nearly every at-bat. The Mustang native totaled three home runs on the day, the first coming in Oklahoma’s win over the Bulldogs. Her two-run shot to deep left field in the top of the second inning started the Sooners’ scoring spree against Georgia.

“I would say that we were ourselves today,” Donihoo said after playing the Bulldogs. “We didn't try too hard. We just went out there and played our game and when we played our game, I feel like we're unstoppable.”

Afterward, as OU rallied to overcome a 3-0 deficit to UCLA, Donihoo crushed her another to give Oklahoma a 5-3 advantage. An inning later, she hit another two-run homer to record her first multi-home run game of her career.

Donihoo’s performance came in her first appearance at the WCWS. She’s only started 25 of Oklahoma’s 55 games this season, even with a .429 batting average on the season.

“I'm so proud of her and all the work she's put in,” said sophomore catcher Kinzie Hansen, Donihoo’s roommate. “You don't see a lot of girls that size hitting monster bombs three times a day.”

Hansen, who tallied five RBIs in the Sooners’ doubleheader, also had a front row seat for OU’s other hero on the day — redshirt senior Giselle Juarez.

The former two-time First Team All-American looked like her former self as she notched 10 strikeouts against Georgia. Freshman pitcher Nicole May was given the start for OU’s WCWS rematch against UCLA, but after allowing six hits and three runs through just two innings, Gasso decided to throw Juarez back in.

It worked as the Glendale, Arizona, native recorded six more strikeouts and allowed just three hits in five innings. Gasso said her decision to put Juarez was to give the Sooners hope after falling behind 3-0. 

“I just wanted to have Nicole May's back,” Juarez said. “I went out there and that's what I told her, ‘I'm going to have your back.’ ... I took it one pitch at a time. My team came back and answered.”

OU’s fight to stay alive in the WCWS made Gasso think her team “fought like gladiators” on Saturday, a reference to the 2000 film Oklahoma has used as motivation for its postseason run, just as it did the year the film was released.

Now having vanquished the team that defeated it in the last WCWS, OU now has a chance to vanquish the team that defeated it this year when it takes on James Madison at noon June 6. The Dukes bested OU, 4-3, in eight innings June 3. For Oklahoma to come out on top this time around, the Sooners know they’ll have to stay together.

“One game at a time,” Hansen said. “That's our message after Thursday. It's one game at a time for us. It's survival of the fittest and we've got to do what we've got to do to win. And we fell behind and it was no-quite attitude. 

“We're here and we're putting our head down and doing what it takes to win.”

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and the Daily's assistant sports editor. He currently covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, volleyball and men's gymnastics.

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