OKLAHOMA CITY — Throw the records out.
A long season filled with COVID tests, social distancing and contact tracing has built to one moment.
Thursday afternoon at 2, the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners (55-4) will meet the 10-seeded Florida State Seminoles (49-12-1) to decide collegiate softball's National Champion at Hall of Fame Stadium.
Riding the wave of a massive Game 2 win, the Sooners hope to carry their success into the decisive Game 3.
“The momentum is definitely on our side. This team felt really good, very excited about how they won,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said after the game on Wednesday night. “It's a victory that puts us in a championship game to win it all. And that's a big deal for this group. They fought very hard throughout the season to get here.”
After the Florida State pitching staff had kept Oklahoma at arm’s length for most of Game 1, Oklahoma finally had some success.
A third-inning home run by Jana Johns put OU on the board, but Jocelyn Alo’s sixth inning blast busted the game open for the Sooners. The Oklahoma star put her team in front for the first time in the Championship Series, and they never looked back.
On Thursday, expect Alo to be in the center of the action again, as she’s made a name for herself as a big-game player.
“She is very, very unfazed by anything. And she believes that she can beat any pitcher anytime, anyplace. And she usually does,” Gasso said. “That is Jocelyn. She's very, very prideful of her hitting. And it bleeds into our team.”
Even when things aren’t going OU’s way, Gasso said Alo remains even keel and helps rally the team in the face of adversity.
“There are times when it would be real easy to get frustrated. And she doesn’t,” Gasso said. “She trusts in her team and whenever she can spark us we seem to follow that. So she is just without — there's no words to explain how important she is to this team.”
Launching 33 home runs, Alo has led the charge for the historic Oklahoma offense, which now holds the single-season NCAA record for home runs in a season (159) and runs scored in a season (633).
But it’s the re-emergence of Giselle Juarez that has OU one win away from a national title.
In a combined 24 1/3 innings for the Women’s College World Series, Juarez has only surrendered three runs, while punching out 31 batters and walking just six. But if she’s going to take the field again on Thursday, she’ll have to pitch on back-to-back days for the first time in Oklahoma City.
Gasso hadn’t decided on a starter in the postgame press conference on Wednesday, but she said Juarez was absolutely in contention to pitch in Game 3.
“Everything is on the table right now. You've got to do everything you can to find a way to win this,” Gasso said. “Whatever we have to do — and I know she'll do whatever she has to do as well.”
If she gets called upon, Juarez will be ready to roll. Despite battling through fatigue, she said the adrenaline of playing for a championship would be able to push her across the finish line.
It’ll take an entire team effort to head back to Norman with the program’s fifth national title on Thursday night, but Alo said she was pleased with how the entire offense adjusted throughout Wednesday and remained patient while tweaking their game plan.
“I was kind of just keeping the offense locked in the game the whole time. And I was telling them the adjustments we needed to make. And we made them there in the end,” Alo said. “It was just a matter of just passing the torch. Just one hitter goes, another hitter goes, another hitter goes. So just kind of keeping that ball rolling.”
The Sooners will hope to keep the bats rolling, as the winner-take-all Game 3 is slated to start at 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
“Should be an exciting day tomorrow,” Gasso said.