OKLAHOMA CITY — That, last night at Hall of Fame Stadium, was the Oklahoma lineup that coach Patty Gasso characterized all season as relentless.
That was the OU defense that Gasso frequently pointed out as the nation’s best.
And that was the Giselle Juarez that Gasso and the Sooners have been hoping would return to form.
After dropping Game 1 of the Championship Series on Tuesday, the Sooners turned in a complete Game 2 performance Wednesday in a 6-2 victory over Florida State in the Women’s College World Series.
Today, OU and FSU tangle one more time, a winner-take-all, 2 p.m. showdown under the Oklahoma sun.
The forecast calls for 92 degrees and high humidity. It’s unfortunate yet somehow appropriate that college softball’s champion will be forged out of such intense heat. That's where the strongest steel is made.
For Oklahoma, it’s a moment they’ve waited for all season. They hit their national record home run total — now 159. They’ve scored the most runs in the history of the sport. Their defense has saved them. Their pitching has gotten better.
Now there’s a championship to be claimed. And the Sooners come into the finale riding a surge of confidence in all three phases.
Gasso often said this year she was impressed by how the entire batting order is endlessly productive. A player or two here or there might go into a slump, but it almost never lasts, and their teammates always pick them up. Gasso has said “there’s nowhere to catch your breath” for opposing pitchers.
After a relatively quiet offensive output on Tuesday, that mentality was back again Wednesday.
Jana Johns, whose batting averaged had dipped Tuesday to .293 (from a season-high .346), turned on a pitch to lead off the third inning and smashed her 12th home run of the year and second of the WCWS.
Hitting out of the 8-hole, it was Johns who kept a struggling OU offense afloat. The Sooners had one hit before Johns’ homer. They finished with 11.
But even after the spark of Johns’ long ball, the Sooner hitters couldn’t figure out FSU starter Kathryn Sandercock.
“We were just dead silent there for a while,” Gasso said. “After Jana Johns hit her solo home run, it was ground ball after ground ball. Everybody was a little frustrated. We kept trying to rally and talk about things and make adjustments. And things just — they weren't working very well, and that's a credit to Florida State's pitching staff. They did a great job. And good pitchers can get good hitters out a lot.”
Then, in the sixth inning, a familiar face turned the ignition and stomped.
“It was definitely Jocelyn Alo that kind of created this energy,” Gasso said, “and everybody just started to step up behind her.
“Jocelyn is always the shot in the arm.”
Alo finished 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a solo home run as OU’s offense finally exploded in the sixth inning.
Better late than never.
Similarly, the OU defense — which inexplicably committed three errors in Tuesday’s loss — exceeded perfection on Wednesday.
Not only did the Sooners not commit an error, but Mackenzie Donihoo robbed another FSU hitter of extra bases with her full-extension, leaping catch in left field. She did it charging in on Tuesday and produced a double play that earned her the No. 1 spot on ESPN "SportsCenter’s" Top Plays. Wednesday’s catch, in a full, back-and-to-the-right sprint, followed by a balletic leap, came in at No. 3.
Right fielder Nicole Mendez chased down two deep flies. Johns made two slick plays at third. And shortstop Grace Lyons, who booted a potential double-play chance Tuesday, turned in two brilliant defensive gems on Wednesday, including an unassisted double play.
“There were some really big momentum plays on defense,” Gasso said. “Grace Lyons making a great play at shortstop — those are things that we can build off. We needed that. Even though it came late, it didn't matter. We built off of it.”
And the Sooners’ secret weapon — fifth-year senior Giselle Juarez — pitched maybe her best game of the season. Juarez was dominant in 2019, but a biceps injury set her back. She labored through a truncated 2020 and has continued to take small steps in the right direction. She didn’t pitch in the two complete-game victories over Washington in the Super Regional, but her four appearances at Hall of Fame Stadium have been spectacular: 24 1/3 innings, 31 strikeouts, six walks and only three earned runs allowed.
Gasso tried her best to sum up this new G.
“I’ll first start with the fact that she has been waiting for this moment,” Gasso said. “And I don't know, I think sometimes when you're away from the game or you really want that moment and you're not getting it, it just kind of takes you to another place of, like, ‘Why am I not getting this? What do I have to do to get the ball more?’
“And that started happening in postseason. And she's turned into postseason form because she kind of let go of some of the things that were holding on to her, like, in her mind — second-guessing and questioning and thinking too much.
“So you're seeing a very free Giselle Juarez, which is what we did see in 2019. But it's a different G. It's very determined, very determined, unfazed right now. It's really exciting to see that.”
All that, of course, is merely how the Sooners got here: unrelenting hitting, elite defense and top-shelf pitching.
Whether Oklahoma finishes this final day amid championship euphoria or put to tears by the mighty Seminoles depends on one thing: whether they can do it all one more time.