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Juarez Ready to Shine At Oklahoma

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(Photo Courtesy of Billy Hardiman)

PHOENIX – Oklahoma pitcher Giselle "G" Juarez stood waist deep in a pool on the campus of Grand Canyon University Friday. Her coaches, teammates and a few others, were on the decking and senior Raegan Rogers was at her side.

The two went through the baptism together, wearing black t-shirts that read “Jesus won” under a cross and pledging to follow his teachings for “the rest of their life.”

The moment, coming after her first start as a Sooner, was just one reason why Juarez called the decision to transfer from Arizona State the “best decision of my life.”

“It’s been crazy, but in the best possible way,” Juarez said. “I want to say it’s changing my life in such a great way, even more than just softball wise. It has been an unreal experience and one that I’ll forever treasure.”

On the diamond, joining the No. 3 Sooners always made sense.

OU has won two of the last three national championships, and coach Patty Gasso’s record with pitchers is impeccable. Last year, Paige Parker was named an All-American for the fourth-straight season, and Paige Lowary, a transfer from Missouri, was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the National Pro Fastpitch Draft.

This offseason, Gasso hired Florida pitching coach and 2015 NFCA Assistant Coach of the Year Jennifer Rocha, as well as two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and OU’s all-time wins and strikeouts leader Keilani Ricketts, to her staff.

In two seasons at ASU, Juarez, from Glendale, AZ, went 32-13 with a 1.67 ERA while guiding the Sun Devils back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2013. With Parker and Lowary graduated, she has two seasons to become the next great lefty to come out of Norman. She kicked off that campaign with two wins, over GCU and Syracuse, allowing two earned runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in eight innings.

“She’s very much a professional,” Gasso said. “She knows what she wants in the bullpen, and she fights for it. She did a good job of dropping down her guard and jumping in with these guys. It has been a pretty easy transition.”

But she doesn’t have to do it all by herself.

OU added Florida International transfer Shannon Saile and brings back Mariah Lopez for her third season in Crimson and Crème. Each tossed a one-hit five-inning shutout this week as OU cruised to a 5-0 start to the season at the GCU Kickoff Tournament, beating their opponents by a 44-2 margin.

The players said their trust in each other is what makes players feel so at home.

“Anyone that comes to our program, as soon as they come, they’re family,” senior Caleigh Clifton said. “We welcome anyone, whether they are a transfer or not, with open arms. When someone transfers in, we feel like they want a second chance. So we’re hoping they can play free and have fun. And we need [Giselle].”

Juarez wouldn’t comment on why she left ASU but said she quickly felt comfortable in Norman.

“I love it here,” Juarez said. “It really does feel like home away from home. I know you hear people say that all the time, but it’s a real feeling and I felt that as soon as I stepped on campus.”

Her tightest bond might be with her catcher.

Lynnsie Elam, a sophomore from Chickasha, OK, is in her first season as the team’s starting backstop. So far, she’s handled the three pitchers like a veteran, following in the footsteps of one of the best defensive catchers in program history, Lea Wodach.

“Lynnsie knows me like the back of her hand after four weeks together, which is so weird,” Juarez said.

OU will look to keep its winning streak going at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational in this weekend. The Sooners have a difficult slate of games, taking on No. 19 Kentucky and Notre Dame Thursday, Florida Atlantic and defending WCWS champion No. 1 Florida State Friday and Hofstra Saturday.

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