OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma did it.
The Sooners battled back after becoming the third top-seeded Women’s College World Series team to lose its first game of the tournament. It took three days of action, two weather delays and a few storybook hits.
But, for the first time in OU coach Patty Gasso’s career, her team is headed to the national championship after winning four games in two days from the loser’s bracket.
Gasso and the team took it one game, one inning and one pitch at a time, just like she wanted. And in result, the Sooners are headed to the three-game series against Florida State, as they seek their fifth title in school history after beating James Madison, 7-1, on Monday evening.
“We have had to go into every single game knowing this could be our last,” freshman outfielder Jayda Coleman said. “And now, we get to go into tomorrow but we have some breathing room.”
Like gladiators, OU's mantra adopted before the season, it was forced to fight for survival to advance in the tournament, because they didn't want it to end.
“It was just more of the gladiator mentality,” Gasso said. “They do play that way. They play hard, they don’t quit. It was really just that (gladiator) attitude. ... If any team can do this, it's our team, so let's make history.”
Oklahoma knew it could make it out of the loser’s bracket. Gasso even recalled Florida State doing so in 2018 as motivation that the daunting task was possible. Gasso said it would take an altered mentality for four-straight wins after Thursday’s 4-3 loss to JMU.
“They've been called out,” Gasso said. “But it's going to have to take a completely different approach, attitude and commitment as a team to stay alive as long as you can.”
The Sooners responded two days after that statement by run-ruling Georgia 8-0 and defeating No. 2 UCLA 10-3 on Saturday. Then, OU avenged its first loss and defeated James Madison and superstar pitcher Odicci Alexander twice, who was a NFCA Second Team All-American and held it to a season-low three runs.
However, it wasn’t so easy for OU at the start.
Oklahoma entered the fourth inning hitless and down 1-0 after JMU left fielder Kate Gordon took senior pitcher Giselle Juarez’s first pitch of the game over the left-field fence on Monday.
Then, senior outfielder Nicole Mendes, who was moved to the four-hole spot in the lineup, delivered a lead-off double to start the fourth inning. It was then that OU took the lead and never looked back. A wild pitch scored Mendes and senior third baseman Jana Johns supplied a two-out single to left field that drove in senior catcher Lynnsie Elam.
The Sooners didn’t flinch, despite facing an early deficit. Oklahoma was able to score seven unanswered runs after the first inning.
“You’ve got to stay in the moment,” Gasso said. “That's really hard to do at this tournament because you start thinking about, oh, well, the time is ticking on us, we're already in the fourth, oh, my gosh. You can't do that. You've got to really stay locked in and keep your minds right where they're at, and the team did a really good job of that.”
Oklahoma’s offense still managed to tally 10 hits as a team. Two came from Mendes, Coleman and sophomore Kinzie Hansen. Johns, senior designated player Jocelyn Alo, junior shortstop Grace Lyons and sophomore outfielder Mackenzie Donihoo each added a hit, also.
The nation’s leading offense provided the runs, and Juarez slammed the door on the JMU offense, pitching seven innings, allowing four hits and striking out 11. Gasso even recalled player of the year Alo telling Juarez that the team “had her back.”
Now, the Sooners, who had to claw their way back to the top despite being the top seed, are confident moving into the national championship. FSU also battled out of the loser’s bracket to create the first championship game between opponents who both lost its first of the tournament.
“I'm honestly star struck right now,” Coleman said. “(Making the WCWS championship) has been my dream ever since I was 12 years old and committing to this university, and I'm just so excited. I can't wait to go out there with my sisters and just give all we've got and just give all of our heart to the game that we love.
“And hopefully it just goes our way.”