OKLAHOMA CITY — Giselle Juarez thought James Madison would come out swinging.
And she was right. Juarez’s first pitch of the day sailed off the bat of the Dukes’ outfielder Kate Gordon into the left-field bleachers of USA Hall of Fame Stadium. It was Juarez’s first allowed run of the Women’s College World Series.
But for right now, it’s her only one.
The redshirt senior went on to notch 11 strikeouts while allowing four hits in No. 1 Oklahoma’s 7-1 win over JMU on Monday. The win advanced the Sooners to their seventh appearance in the WCWS Championship, where they’ll face Florida State in a three-game series, giving Juarez and company a chance to avenge OU’s fall in the last installment of the WCWS title bout.
Juarez gave up nine runs and 15 hits as Oklahoma was swept in two games by UCLA in 2019’s WCWS. But now, after she’s battled through a torn bicep and even lifted the Sooners over the defending champion Bruins, the Glendale, Arizona, native’s play has proven she’s ready to bring a fifth national championship to Norman.
Head coach Patty Gasso thinks Juarez’s performance throughout the WCWS — in which she totaled 25 strikeouts in 17.1 innings — is her best of the season. On softball’s biggest stage, Gasso only needed one word to describe Juarez.
“Exceptional,” Gasso said. “(James Madison is) a very aggressive first-pitch-type hitting team, and their one (and) two hitters are very good and they're just fishing for what they want. It's almost like, ‘Wherever you throw it, I'm going to hit it, and I'm going to hit it hard.’ … She's been throwing outstandingly. Very proud of her and excited about what she can do in these next couple of days.”
OU didn’t lose faith in Juarez after James Madison’s early run, as she responded with two strikeouts in the first inning. Also, when the team regrouped in its dugout between innings, Gasso said she heard the Sooners telling Juarez they had her back and that all they needed was for Juarez to keep them in the game.
Juarez held up her part of that deal, and so did Oklahoma’s offense.
After taking a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, a four-run fifth inning all but sealed the game for the Sooners. The inning saw back-to-back two-RBI doubles from sophomore infielder Mackenzie Donihoo and freshman utility Jayda Coleman that erupted the OU faithful in Oklahoma City. Senior designated player and NFCA Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo homered to left field in the sixth for Oklahoma’s final run of the day.
Now, having achieved their season-long goal of making it to the national championship, Juarez said the Sooners’ grind isn’t over. For the team to accomplish its season-long goal of winning it all, Juarez thinks Oklahoma needs to stick to the script it’s been following.
“Trusting each other, trusting ourselves and just playing our game has been key for us.” Juarez said. “To be one of two teams is amazing, and we've just got to keep playing our game and trusting each other.”
Even though Juarez rose victorious in the WCWS semifinals, the performance of JMU’s Odicci Alexander isn’t to be overlooked. The NFCA Second Team All-American pitcher — who threw 1,057 pitches this postseason, the most of any player by far — made history by leading the Dukes to become the first-ever unseeded team to start the WCWS 2-0.
That started with a 4-3 upset win over the Sooners, which saw Alexander record nine strikeouts. When she exited the game in the bottom of the fifth inning after posting three strikeouts while giving up six runs and seven hits, Oklahoma and James Madison fans gave her a standing ovation.
“Game recognizes game, and she is a baller,” Juarez said. “I have mad respect for her, and she gave everything she had and I think it's really awesome that they did give her that standing ovation. She earned it. She deserves it. She's worked hard, and I think she's a competitor, and she did great this year.”
In return, Alexander had nothing but praise for the Sooners.
“They're a great team,” Alexander said. “They weren't the No. 1 seed for anything. They had a great lineup, great pitching staff.
"I hope they take it all the way.”