By Michael Kinney
NORMAN, Okla. –When a team has won 40 straight games, a lot of things have to go right. Even for a squad as talented as No. 1 Oklahoma, not every facet of the game is going be on high-level day after day.
One of those days came around Saturday when the Sooners took on Wisconsin at the Norman Regional. For one of the few times since February, the Oklahoma offense was flat.
But, like she has all season, Giselle Juarez was there to lift her squad. The junior pitched a complete game no-hitter and struck out 16 batters to lead the Sooners to a 4-0 win over the Badgers at Marita Hynes Field.
“Giselle was phenomenal,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “She is one pitch away, another perfect game and doing that in the postseason is off the charts. I’m really proud of her and her focus. And knowing that our team was not in their normal zone is when they needed her the most and she was there for us.”
In two games at regionals, the Sooners have yet to give up a hit and have allowed only one baserunner. Juarez has done the bulk of that work with 10 innings of near perfect pitching under her belt.
“Today was just about trusting my pitches,” Juarez said.
Juarez has three no-hitters this season and four for her career.
But it’s the way she is pitching now has Gasso thinking of some of the former hurlers who have worn the Crimson and Cream uniform.
“It’s fun to watch,” Gasso said. “It reminds me of some of our past pitchers. But she is nails out there. She is nails. When our team isn’t feeling it, we feel it off of her.”
Even though Juarez is in her first year at Oklahoma since transferring from Arizona State in offseason, it hasn’t taken the Glendale, Az. native to find her comfort level with the program.
“We’re getting spoiled here. In two games we’ve not given up a hit,” Gasso said. “And when you’re in regionals, that’s unheard of. I think we just almost expect it, which isn’t fair. But she lives in that world as well. But we’re seeing greatness right now.”
However, as impressive as Juarez was, the Badger’s Haley Hestekin was hanging right with her. After a first-inning defensive lapse, the sophomore limited the explosive Oklahoma lineup to just a few hits over the next three innings.
That came to an end in the top of the fifth inning when the Sooners Grace Green drove in a run to put OU up 2-0. That ended Hestekin’s day and Kaitlyn Menz entered the game in relief.
In the sixth, Juarez got a visit to the mound by pitching coach Jennifer Rocha and catcher Lynnsie Elam. With a runner on first, the game-tying run was at the plate.
“I wasn’t really trying to think about that,” Juarez said. “I was just thinking about doing my job, letting my defense play. And just letting it happen. Letting what’s going to happen, happen, but still being competitive.”
After the meeting at the mound, Juarez struck out both Kayla Konwent and Taylor Johnson to close out the threat.
“It makes it easy for us. It’s really fun to play behind her,” Sydney Romero said. “She is a confident pitcher. She just brings momentum to the defense. It’s just fun to play behind her.”
In the top of the seventh, Oklahoma’s offense finally got the big shot they had been looking to get. With a runner on second, Caleigh Clifton clubbed a 2-run homer to put OU up 4-0.
“I think just up to the point, we were pressing a little too much,” Clifton said.
Despite the Sooners running their win streak to 41 straight, Gasso said the team was not in a celebratory mood afterward.
“It’s a win, but in the locker room, our team had a mentality almost like they lost,” Gasso said. “But good teams find was ways to win when things aren’t exactly the way they want them to be. And that’s what they did today.”
Oklahoma (51-2) will play Wisconsin again for the regional championship at 1 p.m. today. Gasso is expecting to the Sooners come back to the ballpark with a different mindset.
“I’d like to see a completely different team who is coming in confident, coming in with ownership, coming in as women. I felt we looked a little like girls today. They don’t like when I say that. But they know it. They’ll admit it. They hold themselves to a very high standard. They know they are better than and believe they are going to fix that tomorrow.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Copy Writer