OU softball: Giselle Juarez breaths deep, stays calm, leads Sooners to victory
NORMAN -- Giselle Juarez took a deep breath.
Several of them, actually.
Controlling her breathing in big situations is something the Oklahoma ace has worked on this season. The entire team learns the techniques, but if the sixth inning in Friday’s NCAA Super Regional opener is any indication, Juarez could teach a master class.
After giving up a bullet of a lead-off double that one hopped the left-field fence, then throwing a wild pitch that advanced the runner to third, Juarez breathed deep and regained control.
Strikeout. Weak infield liner. Strikeout.
Even though Northwestern had one more go coming in the seventh inning, you knew then and there the Wildcats were done for.
OU 3, Northwestern 0.
“That’s what makes her good is how she’s able to pitch in that moment,” Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. “She’s tough.”
On a steamy afternoon during which the Sooners moved to within one game of a return trip to the Women’s College World Series, Juarez had plenty of opportunities to get rattled. OU’s potent offense, such a helpmate for Juarez and the rest of the Sooner pitchers, fell flat for a good chunk of the game, and in an era when half a dozen or more runs is common, an old-fashioned softball game broke out.
Through 4 1/2 innings, neither team had managed more than one hit.
Sure, OU scored an early run when slugger Jocelyn Alo drove home Sydney Romero in the first inning, but even then, things started going sideways for the Sooner offense. It left the bases loaded that inning, then went three innings without a hit.
For this bunch, that’s a lifetime.
But Juarez didn’t panic. She retired the side in the second, third and fifth innings. In the fourth, she allowed a lead-off walk, then moved the runner to second on a wild pitch, but even after a fielder’s choice pushed the runner to third, Juarez left her standing there.
Strikeout to end the inning.
“Defense kept us in the game,” Sooner coach Patty Gasso said. “Giselle kept us in the game.”
The Sooner offense finally broke through with a couple insurance runs in the fifth inning, and no one was more excited than Juarez. Having the abundance of run support she’s had much of the season is a pitcher’s dream, but the junior lefty believes she’s better prepared than ever before to handle tight games and tough situations.
“This year’s been the most growth (for me) from the end of last year in the sense that you can’t really tell if we’re up five or we’re down five,” she said. “Our team feeds off me a lot. Just knowing to stay calm in big moments and trusting them is the biggest thing.”
But she admits an interesting thing has happened with her emotions.
“I’m gotten calmer as I’ve been here,” said Juarez, who transferred from Arizona State before this season, “but I’ve also gotten more excited and fired up when big things happen.”
Which brings us back to that pivotal sixth inning.
At one point, second baseman Caleigh Clifton reminded Juarez the runner at third base wasn’t going to tie the game or anything if she scored, but the pitcher didn’t want to chance it. She threw first-pitch strikes on the three batters she retired. She worked from a position of power with each of them. And then after getting those first two outs, she worked a 2-1 count on Northwestern clean-up hitter Nikki Cuchran.
When Cuchran swung and missed for strike three, Juarez was calm no more. She pointed at home plate. She hollered at her catcher.
Juarez exhaled, and so did the Sooners.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
NCAA SUPER REGIONAL
OU vs. Northwestern
When: 3 p.m., Saturday
Where: Marita Hynes Field, Norman
TV: ESPN (Cox 29)
Radio: KEBC-AM 1560