NORMAN, Okla. — It’s hard to lose if you don’t give up a run. Oklahoma is halfway through its quest for another Women’s College World Series appearance and it still hasn’t allowed one.
Paige Parker and Paige Lowary combined to limit Missouri to 5 hits as the Sooners rolled to the NCAA Tournament Norman Regional Crown with a 7-0 victory over the Tigers.
En route to securing their ninth-straight regional title, the two-time NCAA defending champion Sooners (53-3) blanked their way through an NCAA Tournament regional for the first time since 2010.
They have a lineup full of sluggers. Oklahoma outscored its three regional opponents 24-0. But above all else, it is built on pitching and defense. The depth of their pitching staff shined on Sunday.
Parker (28-2) held the Tigers to 3 hits over 4 1/3 innings. It wasn’t the All-America pitcher’s most dominant day. Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso wasn’t even sure she was going to put her ace in the circle until early Sunday afternoon.
The only drama Oklahoma faced over the last three days came on Friday night when Parker was a passenger in a minor car accident following the Sooners’ regional-opening victory over Boston.
“I felt much better today,” Parker said. “I got a lot of treatment the last two days to get myself ready. I felt much better than I did yesterday.”
If Parker hadn’t been at the core of the previous national championship teams, she might have stayed in the dugout. Lowary, who picked up the save on Sunday, dominated Tulsa on Saturday to improve to 9-1 on the season.
Parker’s message to Gasso prior to the game was simple: she had won big games feeling worse. The trust Parker built over the last four years weighed heavily in that decision.
“You could see she really wanted to get on the field,” Gasso said. “She’s earned it and deserved it, being here for four years and putting us at the pinnacle of the best out there. She’s gonna get what she wants. Since she has the immunity, I gave her the ball.”
Oklahoma cashes in on Missouri mistakes
Missouri (30-29) topped Tulsa, 6-5, earlier on Sunday to advance to the championship game. The Tigers looked like a team running out of gas. Only two of the runs starting pitcher Madi Norman (9-8) allowed were earned.
Oklahoma grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Jocelyn Alo and Shay Knighton scored on an error by Missouri by third baseman Amanda Sanchez. It was the first of three errors by the Tigers.
Oklahoma only had 6 hits in its only seven-inning contest of the regional. Knighten went 3 for 3 and drove in 2 runs. Nicole Pendley added a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning to drive another nail in the Tigers’ coffin.
Missouri decided to pitch around Alo in order to get to Knighten throughout the game. Alo, who homered in both of the Sooners’ previous games and is one of the most feared hitters in college softball. But Knighten feasted on the opportunities.
“Whatever Jocelyn does in her at-bat affects my at-bat. It doesn’t matter whether they walk her or she gets a hit,” Knighten said. “Each at-bat is my own. I don’t take what they did to her into my own at-bat.”
Still, the Sooners showed over the three days of the regional they can win in a number of different ways. They tend to do that in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have a history in the postseason that is one of the best and we seem to go to another level during this time it seems like,” Gasso said.
Oklahoma await NCAA announcement on Super Regional Series
Oklahoma will face Arkansas (42-15) in the Super Regional Series. What day the series begins along with game times hasn’t been announced by the NCAA. It will wait until all 16 regionals are complete before doing so.
The winner of the best-of-three series advances to the Women’s College World Series.