NORMAN — Patty Gasso had a curveball for the Washington Huskies.
Hosting UW in Game 1 of the NCAA Super Regionals at Marita Hynes Field, the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners turned to freshman Nicole May to start in the circle.
Surviving a nervy seventh inning, the freshman went toe-to-toe with National Player of the Year Finalist Gabbie Plain and dazzled, firing OU to a 4-2 victory on Friday.
Breezing through the first six innings, OU entered the top of the seventh up 4-1. Instead of turning to Shannon Saile out of the bullpen to close the game, Gasso stuck with her freshman.
After May struck out the first batter of the inning, things appeared ready to unravel. Kelley Lynch homered in the second at-bat of the inning, cutting the lead to just two. Taryn Atlee then reached base when third baseman Jana Johns fumbled a grounder at third, and a single by Lilly Aagan single brought 9-hole hitter Jadelyn Allchin to the plate with a chance to give Washington their first lead of the game.
Instead, Allchin grounded into a fielder’s choice at second. During the action, Huskies head coach Heather Tarr tried to sneak Atlee home, but first baseman Taylon Snow whipped around and threw home to Kinzie Hansen, recording the final out at home plate to seal the win.
Gasso’s decision to start May was unexpected, though not unearned.
May has been the star of the OU pitching staff in crunch time, helping seal the Bedlam series to close the regular season and win the Sooners the Big 12 Tournament.
But to this point over the past month, she had only been used in relief of either Giselle Juarez or Saile.
“(Pitching coach) Jen Rocha has felt very solid about Nicole May and her competitive spirit, and her stuff’s gotten really good,” Gasso said of the decision to start the freshman in her press conference after the game. “She’s been in these big moments and we weren’t afraid of it. Thought that it would be a good way to get started.”
In her first start since April 18 against the Texas Longhorns, May struck out five Huskies, and only allowed the two solo bombs on seven Washington hits. The freshman did exactly what Gasso asked of her — kept the ball in the park and limited the free passes, surrendering no walks.
“Just giving up seven hits against Washington is somewhat of a victory,” Gasso said. “The thing that’s been hurting us at times is base on balls, so allowing our defense to play was really important for us.”
May said Gasso informed her that she would be starting on Friday morning, but it gave her plenty of time to get mentally prepared to get the call from the start of the game.
“I was with some of the other pitchers too and they just were hyped for me so that made me feel better,” May said. “I think there is a different approach or mentality (to starting)… warming up and all of that stuff I was able to say, “I’m starting today, I’m not going to be coming in later.” It’s not like I have the whole game to see what the hitters are doing.”
The freshman battled back through multiple full-counts to ensure she didn’t issue a single free pass.
“I think those moments kid of just made me realize like, oh, I’m not gonna walk her. I don’t want to walk her. I don’t want to put her on base and have the bases loaded,” May said. “So it’s kind of like a dig deep moment where I’m not gonna let this happen type of thing.”
The battle of the two Player of the Year finalists, Jocelyn Alo and Plain, took center stage in the third inning.
Despite fouling a ball off well past the outfield wall in her first at-bat against Plain, Alo struck out looking. She took no pitches in the third inning, lining Plain’s first offering into the left field bleachers.
Oklahoma’s Player of the Year Finalist would again win the battle with Plain in the fifth inning, drawing a walk to lead things off. Gasso called upon Rylie Boone to pinch run for Alo, and she was immediately advanced to second courtesy of a sacrifice bunt by Jayda Coleman.
Hansen then busted the game open.
After Hansen smoked a grounder up the middle, Allchin anticipated a throw and charged in but misplayed the ball and let it roll all the way to the wall. The OU catcher got on her horse and rounded the bases, scoring Boone and herself on the little league homer that was ruled a single and three-base error.
“I’ve never hit an inside-the-park home run. I know that to the eye, to everybody including my teammates, I do not look like the fastest,” Hansen said after the game with a smile. “When the ball went to the wall, in my head I was like I’m getting a triple, I don’t even hit many triples.”
Hansen said when she saw Gasso waive her home, she had to stutter step because she was ready to slide into third, but she got back up to speed to cross the plate in time.
“Those two runs were big for us and I just think it was some insurance from the team,” she said. “I just loved getting back to the dugout and doing it for them.”
The Sooners and the Huskies will meet again on Saturday afternoon, where an OU win would punch their ticket to a fifth straight Women’s College World Series. First pitch for Saturday’s matchup is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ABC.