OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma offense has arrived in Oklahoma City.
Two days after the top-seeded Sooners were held to their lowest run total of the season, the OU bats came alive to stave off elimination and run rule the Georgia Bulldogs 8-0 in six innings at USA Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday.
OU improved to 51-3, while Georgia's season ends at 34-23.
After OU’s 4-5-6-7 hitters combined to go 0-for-13 on Thursday, the middle of the Oklahoma lineup did all the damage early on.
Left fielder Mackenzie Donihoo, who was left out of the lineup on Thursday, stepped up and put on a clinic in two-out hitting to get the Sooners on the board.
Starting in the top of the second inning, Donihoo battled with Bulldog ace Mary Wilson Avant, fouling off four pitches before she connected and launched a two-run shot to give OU the 2-0 lead.
“I honestly thought it was too high and it wasn't going to go over,” Donihoo said after the game. “It went over and I knew that once we got a run on, we were going to keep pushing.”
OU head coach Patty Gasso said that Donihoo was essential in the team settling in and looking more themselves in the batter’s box.
“She was the catalyst today,” Gasso said. “This matchup was really good for her. She's really kind of pretty clutch in times.
“She's going to get more opportunities as long as they align with her swing.”
Two innings later, Donihoo again made Avant pay with two outs.
The Sooner left fielder snuck a grounder between the Georgia shortstop and third baseman, sending Jayda Coleman on her horse from first to third base. As left fielder Sydney Chambley came up to try and throw Coleman out at third, the ball slipped out of her hand and rolled innocuously toward the infield. The error allowed Coleman to make it all the way home safely, extending the OU lead to 3-0.
“We were ourselves today. We didn't try too hard,” Donihoo said. “We just went out there and played our game. And when we play our game, I feel like we're unstoppable.”
A two-run home run from Kinzie Hansen in the top of the fifth busted the game open, pushing the Oklahoma lead to 5-0, which would be all the run support senior pitcher Giselle Juarez would need.
Entering the Women’s College World Series, OU head coach Patty Gasso said she was pleased with how Juarez was performing in practice, and that it was the most focused Gasso had seen the pitcher all year.
Getting her first start since regional play, Juarez dazzled.
The senior struck out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings of work, only walking one batter. She was so dominant in the win that the fifth inning was the only frame where Georgia was even able to put more than one base runner aboard.
“I felt really good today. I went out there and had fun,” Juarez said after the game. “When (your teammates) are hyping you up, that's all you want to do is go out there and do your thing and compete for them. So it felt really good today.”
Gasso said that she was proud of how Juarez performed after the struggles she’s had all year trying to rehab her bicep injury.
“Seeing Giselle handle herself on this big stage when she's gone through some ups and downs this season, it's really one of the highlights of this weekend,” Gasso said. “ I think it will be a lasting memory in her career. It has been a tough year for her. I think she just really wanted to be the pitcher that she used to be and it just didn't come as naturally as she expected, and I think sometimes she was just trying so hard, it didn't work right for her.
“She had really good practices the last couple weeks and this is what showed today.”
USA Softball Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo put the exclamation point on the win with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning, setting a new program record with her 31st bomb of the season.
Donihoo finished the game hitting a perfect 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
The day is far from over for the Sooners. They’ll return to action Saturday evening at 6 p.m. against the 2-seeded UCLA Bruins. A much anticipated matchup that many thought could be a Championship Series matchup will instead to a one-off elimination game, with the winner having to beat the James Madison Dukes twice on Sunday to play for a national title.
Gasso said the team spent most of yesterday preparing for Georgia, but they do have a working knowledge of the Bruins to piece together a game plan by 6 p.m.
“We know enough about UCLA that we can go back and get ourselves prepared. We've had experiences with them in the past. We know they are a great-hitting team. We know that they have the best pitcher in the country. So this is going to be definitely a challenge, but we really didn't get locked into much of that,” Gasso said. “So this is going to be just purely creating a plan, executing a plan, understanding it, trusting it, and leaving it on the field. That's all we can do here.”
Saturday evening’s contest against UCLA will be broadcast on ESPN.