College softball: Oklahoma’s record-breaking bats come alive, force WCWS Game 3

The end was coming, like a late-spring thunderstorm, and Giselle Juarez’s goggles were fogging and Oklahoma’s opportunities were melting. Nothing was going right. There were nine outs to go until elimination on Wednesday, and OU coach Patty Gasso gathered her No. 1-ranked team together in the dugout for a talk. Her batters proceeded to go down 1-2-3.

But here’s the thing about the Sooners: They don’t lose two in a row, and because they have one of the most prolific offenses in NCAA history, they are never out of a game. Especially with Jocelyn Alo in the dugout.

“I was feeling good out there the whole game,” Alo said. “So it was just a matter of staying calm and trying to hit a pitch hard. And I saw it. And I smacked it.”

Alo reached for an outside drop ball and swatted it over the fence in the sixth inning, rescuing Oklahoma in a 6-2 comeback victory that forced a decisive Game 3 against 10th-seeded Florida State for the Women’s College World Series championship Thursday afternoon.

Alo’s home run to right-center was the Sooners’ 159th of the season, breaking the NCAA’s single-season record set by Hawai’i in 2010. The Rainbow Wahine needed 66 games to reach that mark; Oklahoma did it in 59.

The Sooners also shattered Arizona’s 26-year-old single-season record for runs in a season with 633. Arizona needed 72 games to amass 629. But for five innings, this 55-4 Sooners offensive juggernaut, dubbed the most prolific in NCAA history, mustered just one run, watching Florida State dive around the field, scooping up hard-hit grounders.

It was shaping up to be a replay of Tuesday night, when the Seminoles outscrapped the Sooners in an 8-4 upset. Gasso said the team was “down” late Tuesday evening.

“We didn’t play well at all,” she said. “We didn’t pitch very well. We just didn’t do many things well last night.”

Florida State picked up where it left off, racing to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Wednesday when Elizabeth Mason cranked a two-run homer off Juarez. The Sooners’ bespectacled lefty labored a bit at the start of the night, when the heat index climbed to 100 degrees.

But Juarez settled into a groove after the first, retiring 20 of her last 24 batters, scattering four hits and striking out six. Jana Johns helped Oklahoma tie the NCAA single-season home run record in the third inning, smashing a leadoff shot that sailed over the bullpen.

FSU ace Kathryn Sandercock was able to keep the Sooners’ bats at bay for the next two innings, despite getting smacked in the shin by a line drive. Sandercock said after the game that she was fine but anticipated a sizable bruise.

“It’s Game 3 for a national championship, and I think we keep saying it over and over again, but the opportunity to play tomorrow is going to be so much fun.”
FSU coach Lonni Alameda

The sophomore, one of the main reasons FSU is in the finals, said a pitcher who’s facing OU’s offense can either be intimidated by the numbers or stay grounded. Sandercock made it twice through the Sooners’ order. Then Alo unleashed the barrage in the sixth.

Alo, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, said she knew the ball was out immediately and that she hadn’t circled the bases so fast since her first home run during her freshman year. Gasso simply nodded at her slugger as she passed her at third. The homer was Alo’s 33rd of the season, which now puts her eight shy of legendary Sooners player Lauren Chamberlain’s NCAA record of 95.

The Sooners erupted for two more runs before an out was recorded in the sixth, much to the delight of many in the crowd of 12,173.

One more win would give them their fifth national championship.

“My hitters gave us a chance to win that game,” Juarez said. “And I think I just had to do my job, and that’s what I did. I’m excited because now we’re right there.”

Juarez is now 4-0 in the NCAA tournament and has yielded just three runs in 24⅓ innings. She would seem to be the logical choice in the circle again on Thursday, but Gasso was mum on who would start, saying she didn’t know.

“Everything is on the table right now,” Gasso said.

Late Wednesday night, FSU coach Lonni Alameda said she didn’t know which way the Seminoles would go, either. And while the momentum appeared to swing loudly Wednesday evening for the home team, the team that was expected to be in this spot, Alameda was far from inconsolable. The Seminoles have won eight straight WCWS elimination games dating back to their 2018 championship run. They won’t be intimidated now.

“We’re playing for a national title,” she said. “There’s two teams left. It was a dogfight. They took advantage of some swings. And there were a couple of extra-base runners that we allowed to happen.

“I think that we’ll be able to flush it and get after it. It’s Game 3 for a national championship, and I think we keep saying it over and over again, but the opportunity to play tomorrow is going to be so much fun.”

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