Giselle Juarez will remember this moment forever.
That was what OU head coach Patty Gasso said of Juarez’s performance Saturday. The former two-time First Team All-American tore her bicep during the shortened 2020 season and looked as if she would never return to her former self.
But on the biggest stage at the Women’s College World Series, Juarez delivered.
The All-American version of Juarez flashed in Oklahoma’s 8-0 run-rule victory over Georgia (34-23, 7-17 SEC) in Saturday’s elimination game. She pitched five-and-one-third innings for OU (51-3, 16-1 Big 12), allowed just three hits and tallied 10 strikeouts without giving up a run.
More importantly, for the first time this season, Juarez held her opponent scoreless past the fifth inning.
“Seeing Giselle handle herself on the big stage when she’s gone through somes ups and downs this season, it’s really one of the highlights of the weekend,” Gasso said.
Juarez made her first start since May 21 against Morgan State in the Norman Regional. Juarez was relegated to the bullpen as freshman Nicole May and senior Shannon Saile were OU’s proposed options to start for the regional final and super regional slate, where they both pitched complete games as Juarez showed signs of struggle.
After her surgery on her bicep in March, Juarez threw her first pitch to a live batter in January, the month before the season opener. Her strikeouts per seven innings dipped from 10.11 in 2019 to 8.76 in 2021, and she allowed 17 home runs in 86-and-one-third innings this season entering Saturday, but only allowed 17 in 186-and-one-third innings in 2019.
According to Gasso, Juarez had a tough time accepting the new normal.
“It’s a different Giselle,” Gasso told reporters May 19 before the regional. “But I think the hardest part was her pressing to be who she was and accepting that it’s just going to take a different road, and that’s what we’ve been figuring out.”
Juarez seemed to have figured it out, displaying an effective rise-ball and deceptive control that was able to keep the Bulldogs’ hitters off balance. The Glendale, Arizona, native walked just one batter and threw 53-of-81 pitches for strikes.
“You could see them chasing stuff up out of the zone,” Gasso said. “And just kind of not surprised but not quite ready for some of her off speed. She had a really great mix today.”
Juarez’s dominance on Saturday was even unforeseen by Georgia.
Although Juarez pitched five innings and gave up only three hits and two runs with seven strikeouts in the Sooners’ first loss of the season to Georgia on April 20, the Bulldogs could tell something was different.
“You have to say how Juarez pitched a really good game,” Georgia head coach Lu Harris Champer said. “She had a little different gameplan than she had the first time against us, and you’ve got to give it to her. When she needed big pitches, she made them.”
For Juarez, she was concerned with having fun on Saturday. She felt good entering the game, and wasn’t flustered when she was told she would start. She relished the opportunity and gave the Sooners a chance at No. 2 ranked UCLA at 6 p.m. for a bout in the semifinals. A win would give OU a chance at revenge against James Madison.
Perhaps Juarez’ recent re-discovery of her past dominant self gives Oklahoma’s pitching staff the boost it needs, as it faces a challenge of winning three games in 24 hours to head to the national championship series.
“I just let it go,” Juarez said. “Just got out there and competed even at practice, and the same thing today. I was just trying to be in the driver’s seat of the game and controlling myself.”