OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Sooners are the greatest offense in collegiate softball history.
OU’s pitching was the lone question mark about the team all year long.
Giselle Juarez was recovering from an offseason biceps surgery. Shannon Saile has always played with fire, hurling the ball all around the zone and surrendering a few too many walks. Freshman Nicole May entered with high expectations, but it’s a tall task to ask a rookie to carry a team through the Women’s College World Series.
After getting shut out of action at the Norman Super Regionals, Juarez pitched a World Series to remember.
In five appearances in the Women’s College World Series, Juarez pitched 31 1/3 innings and only allowed four runs and eight walks, punching out 38 batters in the process.
“Giselle, my heart just was overflowing with joy for her because it was a tough season for her. It was her super senior year,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said after the game. “She had a lot of things to prove. 2019 didn't finish the way she wanted, and went through some really tenacious surgery and rehab just to get back and play that last season.
“I’m just overwhelmed with joy for that young lady because she was very diligent and fought through it and didn't have her best season, and she would tell you that, but I don't know that it matters right now to her because she had that moment in the course of about seven days. It caps off her career in the most ultimate way you could ever think of.”
She saved perhaps her best performance for last, retiring 13 of the last 14 Florida State Seminoles to clinch the National Championship.
Despite pitching back-to-back games to close the series, Juarez said there was no place she would rather be than in the circle.
“I felt good. I knew adrenaline was going to be going through,” she said after the game. “I mean, it was my last game here as a Sooner, and I just wanted to leave it all out there on the field for my teammates, and that's what I did.”
But it was far from a certainty Juarez would dominate in the manner she did.
In the final series of the regular season, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls chased Juarez out of the game not once, but twice with two-home run innings. As the NCAA Tournament began, May was the Sooner pitcher with the hot hand.
Dropping the first game of the WCWS to James Madison was a shock to the system, but the OU senior stepped up when the team needed her most.
"I just can only smile because it's such a G thing to do," Nicole Mendes said after the game. "To come in and to say, 'OK, you know what, I'm going to own this one, and I'm going to bounce back from this injury, and I'm going to carry my team to this championship.' Such a special moment."
Juarez was a perfect 5-0 at the World Series, with every single inning she pitched coming in an elimination game.
"She is built for the College World Series," Jayda Coleman said of Juarez. "She came into this game saying, 'I'm G Juarez, I'm about to do G Juarez thing.' I'm so proud of her. Great super senior to look up to."
Cool under the pressure, the mental blocks Juarez had struggled with all season washed away, and she was deservingly named the Most Outstanding Player for the WCWS.
“I just wanted to go out there and help my team and just give them every chance to win,” she said. “The beginning of the season wasn't great for me, but I just kept grinding and trusting God's plan for myself. He had this moment planned for me, so I think just — man, it just feels surreal right now.”
Next year, Oklahoma will return virtually the entire team. But they’ll crucially have to replace Mendes, Saile and Juarez.
And as good as the offense could be yet again, Juarez proved that National Championships are still won in the pitcher’s circle.
“It caps off her career,” Gasso said, ”in the most ultimate way you could ever think of.”