Just like coach wanted: Oklahoma scuffles but shows resilience in beating Arizona State

Giselle Juarez was strong in the circle and OU's lineup logged three more timely home runs to take down the No. 13-ranked Sun Devils
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TEMPE, AZ — This is exactly what Patty Gasso wanted to see.

Oklahoma hadn’t been challenged much in its first eight games, and Gasso predicted this week that the Sooners would indeed be challenged by No. 13-ranked Arizona State.

“What kind of demeanor are we gonna have,” Gasso asked, “when we’re down?”

She found out on Friday night. So did Arizona State.

The No. 2-ranked Sooners fell behind early and immediately rallied to take the lead, then got into some trouble of their own making but got out of it, then hit a couple of long balls and had to hold on to an uncomfortable 5-3 victory at ASU’s Farrington Stadium.

Tiare Jennings, Nicole Mendes and Jocelyn Alo each hit home runs, and left-hander Giselle Juarez pitched six strong innings before tiring late.

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OU fell behind in the third inning when Makenna Harper’s home run off Juarez made it 1-0 with one out.

But Jennings put the Sooners in the lead almost immediately. Jana Johns led off with a single, and Jennings made it 2-1 with a two-run blast to left field — her sixth home run of the season.

Things got dicey in the sixth when Alynah Torres reached on a two-out error by Johns, then took two bases on an error by catcher Lynnsie Elam.

But Juarez got out of the jam by inducing a popup.

Riding that momentum, Mendes — who missed last week’s games because of COVID-19 contact tracing, Gasso said — led off the seventh with a home run that extended Oklahoma’s lead to 3-1, and after Jayda Coleman reached on an error, Alo blasted a two-run shot to left center to make it 5-1.

In outscoring their first eight opponents 108-9, OU hadn’t been pressed much. But Gasso said Thursday that was something she wanted to see — to see how her players would respond when things got tough.

“I hope to find out quite a bit this weekend,” Gasso said. “We’re running into a really really good team in Arizona State. The numbers, the lineups, everything almost looks very identical to us. So I’m interested to see the toughness our team has and what kind of attitude they have out there. I need to see them bow up. That is gonna be really, really important.

“I think this week is definitely our toughest week and maybe the one I’m most looking forward to.”

In sticking with the theme of the day, Juarez got into serious trouble in the bottom of the seventh inning but OU held off the Sun Devils’ charge.

Juarez, a senior from nearby Glendale, AZ, who started her college career at Arizona State and was a first-team All-American with the Sun Devils, had given up just one run while striking out 10 with one walk through her first six innings in her best outing so far this season. But then Juarez got knocked around for two runs on three hits to start the seventh as Denae Chatman and Harper both delivered RBI hits to make it 5-3.

Shannon Saile then came in for Juarez with nobody out and got two strikeouts and a foul-out to end it.