OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso’s trust in senior pitcher Paige Parker runs deeper than player-coach. Parker has proven herself over and over again in 134 career starts spanning four seasons and nine previous wins in the Women’s College World Series since 2015.
Gasso knows better than to second-guess her ace.
Even though she threw a complete-game 2-hitter in the Sooners’ 2-0 victory over Arizona State earlier in the day, Gasso heard the magic words from Parker during the four-hour break before facing Florida.
“She’s been here, she’s done it many times,” Gasso said. “And when Paige Parker says, ‘I would like to have the ball,’ you listen to Paige Parker and you give her the ball.”
Parker replicated her earlier performance. She tossed another complete-game 2-hitter in the Sooners’ 2-0 elimination game victory over the Gators.
The Sooners followed their leader. They’ve seen that locked-in look from Parker so many times before. But Saturday night, it was a little different.
“She just goes to a new place in this kind of environment competitively,” Oklahoma catcher Lea Wodach said. “She’s hands down the biggest competitor I know, and I’m very thankful she’s on our team.”
Florida (56-11) got few goods looks at any of the 104 pitches Parker spun up to the plate.
“She just kept mixing where she was throwing it, mixing in and out, throwing that changeup, and that changeup is pretty dirty,” Florida’s Nicole DeWitt said. “She did a great job [Saturday night].”
Parker beat the Gators twice in the 2017 Women’s College World Series, including the title clincher. The Sooners and Gators have combined to win the last five national championships. The Sooners are trying to win their third straight. Parker kept hopes alive for the three-peat.
“I think, in general, being a pitcher you have to be probably the most mentally tough person out on the field,” Parker said. “So just trying to go to another place mentally and just go out there and compete and fight.”
Oklahoma remains ice cold at the plate
Oklahoma’s run production came down to one swing Saturday. In the first inning, freshman Jocelyn Alo clubbed her 30th home run of the year. The blast, which was her second of the day, tied the NCAA and Oklahoma freshman record set by Lauren Chamberlain in 2012.
Florida coach Tim Walton saw all he needed to see of Alo after the first-inning blast. The Gators intentionally walked Alo on her remaining trips to the plate. In the fourth inning, it moved a runner into scoring position. In the sixth, the move loaded the bases.
“We weren’t going to let her beat us,” Walton said.
But Alo’s homer was the Sooners’ only RBI against the Gators. They pushed across the insurance run when Caleigh Clifton scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning.
Florida pitchers Kelly Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio combined to hold the Sooners to 3 hits over six innings. Barnhill gave up the homer to Alo. With the loss, she finished the season at 29-3.
Through three Women’s College World Series games, the Sooners are just 15 for 72 (.208 batting average) with 3 RBI.
Alo’s home run came on the first pitch of her first-inning at-bat. The pitch was the only strike she saw from the Gators. Alo went 1 for 1. The rest of the Sooners were 2 for 20 against Florida.
“If we just stick to the process, things are gonna work out,” Oklahoma’s Nicole Pendley said.
Next up for Oklahoma
The Sooners return to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium at 1 p.m. ET Sunday to face Washington. The Sooners have to beat the Huskies twice to advance to the best-of-three championship series, which begins on Monday.
Gasso kept senior Paige Lowary (10-1) in the bullpen on Saturday. She picked up two victories in the Norman Regional and Super Regional Series against Arkansas. Thus far, she’s only thrown an inning, giving up 5 hits in relief in the loss to Washington on Thursday.
But don’t be surprised if Gasso rides Parker as far as she can go. Even after throwing 14 shutout innings on Saturday and 182 pitches, she has more innings in her.
“I’ll do anything for this team, so if my number is called [Sunday], I’ll be ready,” Parker said.