NORMAN — Battling with the Kansas Jayhawks early, patient offense powered Oklahoma to its 27th win of the season, a 6-2 triumph Friday night at Marita Hynes Field.
Despite the victory, OU coach Patty Gasso said her team didn't play their best game against Kansas.
"We were off a little bit tonight. I could feel that in some of the approaches, some of the pitches we were swinging at," Gasso said in a Zoom press conference after the game. "There was a little bit of frustration, and again that’s due to the Kansas pitchers doing a nice job."
The Jayhawks actually got on the scoreboard first.
After leaving two runners on in the first inning, designated player Madison Hirsch tattooed a Giselle Juarez pitch on the opening at bat of the second inning, sending the ball over the fence in right-center field.
"I thought Giselle had a slow start and finished strong. Her best stuff was definitely not tonight, and when she’s getting nine strikeouts without her best stuff, that’s saying something," Gasso said. "She’s finding other ways and combinations of pitches to get outs. When a pitchers best pitch just isn’t where it needs to be, it’s unsettling.
"She should be proud. I was proud of her."
Kansas’ opening salvo merely served to annoyed the Sooners, however, as they immediately responded with a trio of runs on their own in the bottom of the second inning.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, third baseman Jana Johns lifted a sacrifice fly all the way to the warning track in left field, allowing Lynnsie Elam to comfortably cross home plate. MacKenzie Donihoo then singled through the left side to plate Jayda Coleman before freshman Tiare Jennings sent a hard-hit line drive to centerfield, allowing first baseman Taylon Snow to score the final run of the inning.
"I feel like we weren’t really on tonight and we were still able to manufacture runs and I think that was really important for us," Coleman said. "It was bad, but it was good because we know we don’t have to hit home runs all the time."
Back in front on the scoreboard, Juarez went back to work, silencing the Kansas bats for the most part after surrendering the homer in the second inning.
"I feel like a huge part of zoning back in was (Lynnsie Elam). She kind of just like told me, “hey, stop trying to hard,” and just like do me," Juarez after the game. "And so just having that little reminder from her and her being able to communicate that with me made a huge difference for myself."
Recovering from an offseason bicep surgery, the goal for Juarez was always to be as close to 100 percent as possible by the business end of the season in June.
"I definitely think there’s another gear and another level I can go to," Juarez said. "I don’t think I’ve had my best stuff, and I think for me it’s just the consistency piece and the belief and confidence and getting back in that groove."
Another three runs help the Sooners bust open the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Jayhawks pitcher ended the night on a bases loaded walk with no outs before the OU lineup started to wreak havoc.
Jennings reprised her role from the second inning with a sacrifice fly to dead-center, again bringing Snow in for a run.
Then, Jocelyn Alo did her thing.
Logging a hit for the 40th consecutive game, Alo drove Johns home to put the Sooners up by five runs.
Alo ended the night 1-for-3, with one RBI.
Jennings finished 1-for-2 on the evening with a pair of RBIs, and fellow freshman Coleman hit 2-for-2 with a pair of stolen bases. Donihoo also finished with two RBIs to show for her 1-for-1 performance at the plate.
As the game score stayed out of run-rule territory for the entirety of the evening, Juarez said she enjoyed the chance to pitch in a closer game again.
"I like the close games, it really keeps you locked in," she said. "When we get time to just refocus each inning it plays a huge part in going out and attacking the next innings."
"But I mean, I don’t mind the long innings because our offense is pretty legit," Juarez added with a smile.
OU had only five hits on the night, including zero extra-base hits. The Sooners' streak of consecutive games with a home run ended at 31.
Juarez looked her dominant self by the end of the contest. After allowing four runners to reach base in the first three innings, Juarez retired 11 straight batters to close her portion of the game, handing the ball off to Macy McAdoo and Shannon Saile to close out the game.
Striking out nine batters over six innings of work, Juarez only allowed four hits and issued no walks.
"It wasn’t our best night tonight," Gasso said. "But when you’re not at your best and you’re still finding ways to beat a pretty good team, a very good team, there’s something to say for that so that’s kind of what it felt like tonight."
The OU victory clinches the series for the Sooners, notching their 56th straight Big 12 series on their 48th straight conference victory. The win streak for Gasso’s squad was also extended to 34 games, dating back to last season.
The series finale against the Jayhawks will be played Saturday at Marita Hynes Field at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SoonerSports.tv and 107.7 FM The Franchise.