Sooners Reach Sunday with Win over Gators

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to SoonerSports.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY – A dominating double-dose of déjà vu allowed the Oklahoma softball team to survive elimination Saturday at the Women’s College World Series.

In a 2-0 victory over Arizona State in the day’s first elimination game, OU senior All-American lefthander Paige Parker threw a two-hitter and freshman slugger Jocelyn Alo got the Sooners on the scoreboard first with a solo home run.

In a 2-0 victory that eliminated Florida six hours later … um, ditto. Parker again threw a two-hitter and Alo again got on the scoreboard first with a solo shot.

OU actually has played three straight 2-0 games so far in the WCWS, losing 2-0 to fifth-seeded Washington in the opening round on Thursday.

Add it all up and the two-time defending national champions remain alive in their quest for a three-peat.

Next up for the fourth-seeded Sooners (57-4) is a rematch against Washington (51-8) at noon on Sunday. OU will have to beat the Huskies twice to advance to its third straight best-of-three championship series, which starts Monday.

Battling 90-degree temperatures in both games, Parker was magnificent in raising her season record to 31-3 and lowering her ERA to 0.77.

Although fatigue no doubt played a factor, Sooners coach Patty Gasso decided to allow Parker to fly solo in the circle for two complete games.

"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. She did a good job of not throwing a tremendous amount of pitches in the first game, so it’s still fresh. For her to have an outing like that after playing Arizona State against a team like Florida that’s such a well-rounded team in every area, it was one for the ages, in my mind. It was not only just masterful, but it was a will to find a way to win.”

Parker said she did it all for her teammates.

“My team is so important to me, and I love them so much, and I wanted to do anything for them,” Parker said.

Parker kept Arizona State (48-13) off-balance all game. She struck out seven, walked two, induced 10 infield pop-ups and required only 78 pitches (55 strikes).

Against the Gators (56-11), Parker struck out eight, walked two and needed 104 pitches (70 strikes) to survive.

Asked if she’ll be strong enough to pitch Sunday against Washington, Parker said, “Truthfully, it doesn’t really affect me a ton. I’ll do anything for this team, so if my number is called tomorrow, I’ll be ready.”

Florida coach Tim Walton, a former assistant under Gasso (1999-2002), is quite familiar with Parker, having faced the four-time Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year in last year’s championship series.

“You know, I would certainly not want to tell you that she wasn’t good last year,” Walton said, “but she was a lot better today than she was in the championship last year, in my opinion.”

With her two homers, Alo has tied the Division I freshman season record for home runs with 30, matching former OU great Lauren Chamberlain (2012) and Hawaii’s Kelly Majam (2010).

Alo tied the mark against some pretty heady competition. On the first pitch in her first at-bat against 2017 Softball USA national player of the year Kelly Barnhill, Alo hit a towering shot to left field into a steady 20 mph wind.

Alo recalled watching Barnhill in last year’s 17-inning loss to the Sooners in the WCWS championship series.

“I just pictured myself in that exact moment, and that moment happened to happen,” Alo said of someday potentially facing Barnhill. “So hat’s off to her, she’s an awesome, awesome pitcher. Yeah. I’m sorry.”

Thanks to Alo’s heroics, the Sooners are now 46-0 this season when scoring first.

Understandably, Alo was intentionally walked on her next two at-bats against the Gators.

“Obviously, the game plan wasn’t to see how far Jocelyn Alo can hit the ball in the first inning,” Walton said. “Kelly just threw right down the middle. But other than that, we respect where respect is due.”

In the bottom of the fifth, after Alo was walked to load the bases, OU first baseman Shay Knighten struck out swinging. However, Knighten reached first and a run scored when the ball got past Florida catcher Janell Wheaton to give the Sooners a 2-0 lead.

Barnhill (29-3), who suffered a 6-5 loss to UCLA in the second round Friday, lasted just 24 pitches against the Sooners and was pulled after walking Kelsey Arnold to open the third inning. Aleshia Ocasio relieved Barnhill and allowed one run, one hit and struck out six in four innings.

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