OKLAHOMA CITY — It was more than just a must-win situation for Oklahoma.
After FSU took game one, 8-4, OU entered the second matchup of the Women’s College World Series on Wednesday with its chance at a national championship on the line. A loss meant every run-rule victory, every crushed home run and every celebrated base-hit would just have been to get the Sooners a runner-up finish.
So, head coach Patty Gasso unsurprisingly turned to redshirt senior Giselle Juarez to get Oklahoma over Florida State. The left hander didn’t play in the Sooners’ game one loss, and Gasso believed Juarez was ready for the moment.
She was right. Juarez allowed just four hits and notched six strikeouts in OU’s 6-2 win over FSU, pushing the team just one step away from securing its fifth WCWS title. The Glendale, Arizona, native is now 5-0 and has recorded 37 strikeouts in the Sooners’ WCWS run.
Just as she did when she led Oklahoma to the WCWS championship series with an elimination-game victory over James Madison on June 7, Juarez continues to come up big when her team needs her most.
“I think sometimes when you're away from the game or you really want that moment and you're not getting it, it just kind of takes you to another place of, ‘Why am I not getting this?'” Gasso said of Juarez, who has overcome a torn bicep this season. “She's turned into postseason form because she’s kind of let go of some of the things that were holding on to her, like second-guessing.
“You're seeing a very free Giselle Juarez, which is what we did see in 2019. But it's a different G. She’s very determined (and) unfazed right now. It's really exciting to see that.”
The game didn’t start easily for Juarez.
In the bottom of the first inning, after a pair of controversial calls that Gasso believed warrant instant replay to be instituted to college softball, Juarez surrendered a two-run homer to Seminoles’ utility Elizabeth Mason that gave Florida State a 2-0 lead. Those would prove to be FSU’s only runs of the game, and upped Juarez’s allowed WCWS run count to three.
Juarez said she needed to settle in after Mason’s home run. She credited her teammates for remaining mentally dialed in in the moment and that the confidence she has in the Sooners’ offense allowed her to just focus on her job.
“They had my back,” Juarez said. “They're always going to have my back. And I think when I go out there every time, even if I do give up a hit, I've got to keep them in the game and they're going to do their thing.”
Mason believed Juarez’s adjustments after the first inning kept the Seminoles off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Now that FSU has seen four of OU’s pitchers, however, Mason said her team will be ready for Juarez in the series’ final game.
Gasso didn’t confirm who she will start in the circle for game three, but Juarez said she’s prepared to take over the mound if called upon. If she does get the call, her teammates will have her back again.
“I knew G was going to keep us in that game,” said senior designated player and player of the year Jocelyn Alo. “She's been red hot this whole time. And I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to back her up with the offense.
“And I was just constantly in her ear, like, ‘I got you’ ... and the rest of the team had her, too.”