OKLAHOMA CITY — Facing elimination for the first time since the NCAA Softball Tournament began brought out the best in Oklahoma pitcher Paige Parker.
The senior left-hander dominated Arizona State, tossing a 2-hitter and recording 7 strikeouts in the Sooners’ 2-0 victory against Arizona State in the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Today was just going out there giving my team a chance to win. The defense was fantastic today,” said Parker, who improved to 30-3 this season with the victory. “The last couple of innings I knew I needed to step it up a notch and really go into shut down mode and try to be efficient today and go after hitters and stay ahead in counts.”
There isn’t a pitcher better suited for a must-win game at the Women’s College World Series than Parker. She won eight in a row on college softball’s biggest stage before taking the loss to Washington on Thursday.
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso never thought about sending someone else to the circle on Saturday.
“It’s a no-brainer. A no-brainer since she arrived in Oklahoma,” Gasso said. “So when we need big wins, she’s always there and she loves the stage and there’s really no decision. And she was, like she always is, masterful today.”
The Sooners’ scoreless streak reached 9 innings. Freshman slugger Jocelyn Alo ended the slump with a solo home run to lead off the top of the third inning. The blast was Alo’s 29th of the season and fourth since the NCAA Tournament began.
Arizona State starting pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez, who finished the season 26-6 with the loss, held the Sooners to 1 run on 4 hits through 4 innings. But the blast from Alo was decisive.
“That was their second time seeing me. I know, like, in club ball she’s seen me before,” Juarez said. “They’re going to make adjustments, and that’s a good scoring, like, offensive team. Like at the end of the day, I’ve got to tip my hat. She made — she did her job on my mistake.”
Timely hits still elusive for Oklahoma
Two runs seemed like an offensive avalanche after Oklahoma was shut out by Washington on Thursday. Still, the Sooners went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. The lone hit was Lea Wodach’s RBI single in the top of the sixth inning that gave Oklahoma a 2-0 lead.
Through two games in Oklahoma City, the Sooners are 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
The run Oklahoma scratched out in the sixth inning was critical. Caleigh Clifton set the insurance in motion, getting hit by a pitch from Arizona State reliever Breanna Macha, stealing second base and then scoring on Wodach’s soft liner to right field.
“C.C.’s at-bat, I think, changed the momentum of the game for us; whether we scored or not, it was just a great at-bat and it was filtering into the other athletes,” Gasso said.
The Sooners survived because Parker (30-3) made every clutch pitch. The Sun Devils (48-13) put one runner in scoring position.
What’s next for Oklahoma?
The Sooners face another elimination game at 7 p.m. ET against Oregon. The Gators (56-10) dropped into the losers bracket with a 6-5 loss to UCLA on Friday.
Gasso didn’t say who she would put in the circle against the Gators, but hard-throwing left-hander Paige Lowary (10-1, 0.98 ERA) is the likely choice. Parker, who threw 78 pitches in the victory against Arizona State, is another option.
“We have Paige Lowary and we have Mariah Lopez [14-0, 1.56]. You haven’t seen much of her. But she can get it done, and she did it last year in the World Series. If Paige Parker says I’m good, then she’ll be on the mound as well,” Gasso said. “So there are lots of choices and opportunities. And that’s the beauty of this deep pitching staff.”