OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Sooners aren’t done yet.
Staving off elimination once again, the top-seeded Sooners beat the 10-seeded Florida State Seminoles 6-2 on Wednesday night at Hall of Fame Stadium to force a winner-take-all Game 3.
And it took a record-setting performance to get the job done.
Trailing 2-0, Jana Johns launched a no-doubter to left field, nearly clearing the outfield bleachers to cut the deficit to one. The homer was Oklahoma’s 158th blast of the year, tying the single-season NCAA record set by Hawaii in 2010.
In the top of the sixth and down to their final six outs, it would be none other than Jocelyn Alo who rewrote the record books.
With Tiare Jennings already on and no outs, Alo cranked the two-strike offering from Kathryn Sandercock into right-center field, giving OU (55-4) their first lead of the Championship Series over the Seminoles (49-12-1) and the home run record, all while sending Hall of Fame Stadium into a frenzy.
“I was feeling good out there the whole game,” Alo said after the game. “So it was just a matter of staying calm and trying to hit a pitch hard.
“And I saw it. And I smacked it.”
As OU’s home run leader with 33 on the season, Alo said she was honored that she was able to be the person to break the record.
“It's a very cool thing to happen to me. And I think it just goes to show how much work that I put into this and how much (Coach J.T. Gasso) and me have been working this whole offseason,” Alo said. “It’s just a testament to him and what he's done and Coach Gasso for just keeping me sane.”
Alo’s bomb opened the floodgates.
Four straight singles by the Sooners put two more runs on the board courtesy of RBIs by Mackenzie Donihoo and Jayda Coleman, and OU handed a 5-2 lead back to Giselle Juarez in the circle.
Oklahoma’s senior ace wouldn’t relinquish it.
Despite giving up another first inning home run, Juarez settled in, just as she did against James Madison on Monday, to shine in the circle.
“I did settle in,” Juarez said. “I think my hitters came up to me and they were like, “we've got you, we have your back.” And I think for me it was all about keeping them in that game. They had my back. They're always going to have my back.”
Punching out a pair of batters to close the first inning, Juarez retired eight straight Seminoles and shut the 10-seed out the rest of the way, giving her offense plenty of time to dial in on the FSU pitching staff.
Allowing just four hits, Juarez struck out six batters en route to the victory.
“You're seeing a very free Giselle Juarez, which is what we did see in 2019. But it's a different G,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said after the game.
Gasso said that Juarez struggled at points this season mentally holding onto too much, but she’s let loose at the right time.
“We were always working with her. It was just -- it's so hard. Any coach could tell you,” Gasso said. “When it has something to do with what's going on mentally, you can give them cues and you can try to help them, but ultimately it's a player just deciding, ‘I can't take this anymore, this is ruining my career.’
“So with Giselle, it started coming slowly towards the end of the season. And really came alive in postseason. So she'll tell you, the only thing she's going to remember about her career is this last week.”
Though the Sooners didn’t get their fast start (scoring just one run in the first three innings), their stellar defense returned to support Juarez, coming up big to help the senior pitcher work out of any jam she found herself in.
Nicole Mendes added some insurance in the top of the seventh with a sacrifice fly to plate Alo and push the lead to 6-2, more than enough to get Oklahoma across the finish line.
Breathing new life into the Championship Series, the Sooners take all of the momentum into Thursday’s Game 3.
No team this year has beat Oklahoma twice, and the Sooner bats have now laid eyes on all three FSU pitchers who are expected to be involved tomorrow.
Juarez said it will be all hands on deck for tomorrow’s Game 3, and that she’ll be ready if her number is called.
“Everyone's feeling a little fatigue. It's been a long tournament,” she said. “But I mean, I'm ready to go. I am pumped and I think adrenaline is just going to take over and we're just going to have fun.”
The National Championship will be decided at 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon at Hall of Fame Stadium, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.