OKLAHOMA CITY — Nicole Mendes’ chalk up was simple.
For the second game in a row, No. 1 Oklahoma failed to record a hit in the first three innings. It did the same against James Madison on Monday afternoon. The senior said the Sooners didn’t take advantage of the first three innings in their 8-4 loss against No. 11 Florida State in game one of the national championship series on Tuesday.
“I felt the momentum in our favor, but we just took too long to respond,” said Mendes, who went 1-for-2 with a home run.
Freshman pitcher Nicole May allowed no runs through two frames, and despite not recording a hit, OU put pressure on the Seminoles’ defense with Mendes in scoring position and no outs after she reached on an error.
But Oklahoma couldn’t capitalize early, with a fly out by junior shortstop Grace Lyons and Mendes thrown out at third trying to extend a base on the subsequent play.
Then, when the Seminoles took an early two-run lead in the third inning after a home run, OU’s bats failed to respond, with two ground outs and a strikeout after seeing just seven pitches.
“You can’t sit back and wait,” Sooners head coach Patty Gasso said. “And when you’re on a stage like this, you just got to play well. You got to pitch well. You got to hit well. You got to do a lot of things well. We didn't do much of that very well. We had signs of it, we were creating a little bit of momentum.”
May was later shelled for seven runs, five of which came in the fourth inning, following the Sooners’ missed opportunities they credited of the first few frames. Gasso went with sophomore Olivia Rains to finish the inning with one out before turning to senior pitcher Shannon Saile in relief, who allowed one run in three innings.
Although Florida State pitcher Danielle Walton retired nine-straight batters before the fourth inning, Oklahoma responded with back-to-back home runs by Mendes and sophomore catcher Kinzie Hansen after the lineup faced her for the second time.
“I think it's all in the first three (innings),” Mendes said “I think if we come out in the first three, our offense definitely gets a lot more looks in the lineup. And getting a second go-around in the lineup with the first three is a lot more helpful than waiting for the fourth inning. So I think that's kind of our mindset is make sure we get base runners on, score early, score often.”
Luckily for OU, it was no longer facing elimination, as it conquered the loser’s bracket, winning four-straight games to make it to the three-game championship series.
Although Gasso said nothing went well during the game — OU had three errors on defense and walked six batters as a pitching staff. She knew she didn’t need to address the team on building confidence to win two-straight matches to be crowned national champions for the fifth time in school history.
Mendes hopes OU can improve on its slow start and get back to being themselves.
“I just felt like we waited, Mendes said. “We were just waiting for somebody to get a big hit, waiting for something to happen instead of attacking. So tomorrow whenever we play, we come out and we come attacking, we'll score in the first three (innings).”
Editor’s note: This post was corrected at 11:27 a.m. on June 9 to properly reflect the final score of game one of the national championship series.