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Oklahoma Learns Valuable Lesson In Regionals

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(Photo Courtesy of Oklahoma Athletics)

NORMAN, Okla. -- When No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Wisconsin Sunday afternoon, they put themselves in a position they didn’t particularly want to be in. However, according to coach Patty Gasso, it was one they needed to be in.

The Sooners had their backs against the wall for the first time season when they faced the Badgers for a third time during the regional tournament. Another loss and their dominating season would come to an end on their home field and way earlier than expected.

But, Oklahoma (52-3) responded like Gasso knew they would. They shutout Wisconsin 2-0 Sunday evening at Marita Hynes Field to claim the program’s 18th Regional Title.

“It was important for us to have our backs against the wall,” Gasso said. “Not that we planned it that way. But I think it worked out well for us because we’ve just been kind of flat. When you have your back against the wall, it’s a character builder. Either you’re going to be there or you’re not. You’re going to be afraid to lose or you’re going to play to win. They started to play to win.”

Gasso gave a lot of credit to Wisconsin, who battled Oklahoma to a near standstill over 14 innings Sunday.

“I thought Wisconsin taught us a very valuable lesson on how to play free and on how to play to win,” Gasso said. “Anybody that can teach us a lesson, we will take it. We’re humble enough to know that there are things we need to learn about the game.”

For the third straight game, the Sooners offense was less than spectacular. And it was the pitching of Giselle Juarez who came up with the strong performance on the mound. The junior went seven innings, allowed four hits, and struck out eight to push her record to 25-1.

While it wasn’t Juarez’s best stuff, coming off her first loss of the season, it was her biggest moment with the Sooners.

“This is a great opportunity for her to feel what it feels like,” Gasso said. “Because it’s coming. It’s coming next weekend. And if we’re blessed enough, we have a whole another 10 days of it as well. These situations were invaluable for this team.”

It was Sydney Romero who got the scoring started for Oklahoma with a sacrifice fly in the third inning, which brought home Raegan Flowers for the 1-0 lead. The very next inning Grace Green smashed a solo homer and Oklahoma led by two runs.

“After the first game today, JT (Gasso) talked to us just about going out and having fun,” Green said. “Even just as a team, mot just as hitters. Just going and having fun because we were pressing a little bit the first game. That’s what I did in the box. I just tried to go and have fun and take my hacks.”

Those were the only mistakes pitcher Kaitlyn Menz made through the first six innings. Despite pitching a complete game in Game 1, the junior right-hander showed no signs of giving into to the OU lineup.

“She was phenomenal pitching two games like that,” Green said of Menz. “It just absolutely blows my mind. She had a really good drop ball and a really good changeup.”

Wisconsin tried to get the runs back in the bottom of the fourth inning when they put two runners on base and Kelly Welsh at the plate. But Juarez got Welsh to ground out and end the inning.

“I think for me, I was just fighting every pitch, executing every pitch,” Juarez said. “Taking it pitch by pitch. Just keeping it within reach for our team because I know our offense can come through. So just grinding it out and trusting my pitches.”

In the top of the seventh, the Sooners had a chance to extend the lead when they put two runners on and no outs. But Menz came through again and got the next three batters out and keep the game within reach for her offense.

But Juarez was on her game. She got Saturday night’s hero, Stephanie Lombardo, to fly out, then struck out Jolie Fish before getting Kelly Welsh to pop out to end the game.

Having to win the game in which the Sooners did show the type of mettle the team has. But it was still not something Gasso and her staff would have asked for if they had their options.

“I do not hope for that because it’s quite stressful,” Gasso said. “You want your team to come out and rake and score early and score often and own it. But I think this can be a big difference maker for this team. We learned what happens when you’re a little bit tight. And when we’re a little bit tight, nothing happens well. When we are free and just doing it like we do it, we do it well.”

The Sooners will host the Super Regional next week. But they will not have to worry about talking about their win streak which came to an end at 41 games.

“It’s pretty incredible really. To say we haven’t lost a game since February is unheard of. And it’s not like we’re playing soft competition. We’re playing tough ranked teams. So they know how to win and that’s that whole championship mindset. The championship mindset came out the second game.”

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