NORMAN — Patty Gasso was greeted with silence when entering Oklahoma’s locker room following a 4-0 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon.
For most softball fans, it seemed like a workmanlike effort by OU that included Giselle Juarez’s dominating no-hitter and Caleigh Clifton’s timely seventh-inning home run for breathing room in the NCAA Regional winners bracket game.
Gasso complimented the Wisconsin pitching staff after the contest. But this OU team — now winners of 41 consecutive games — continues to chase perfection each time it takes the diamond.
“I think just individually we hold ourselves to a high standard,” Sydney Romero said. “We knew that wasn’t our best game, but like Coach said, the good thing from it is there’s a new day tomorrow and we’re gonna get better.”
Oklahoma (51-2) advances to Sunday’s regional championship game and will face the survivor of Saturday night’s elimination game between Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Notre Dame eliminated UMBC 2-0 Saturday.
First pitch for OU is 1 p.m. with an “if necessary” game to follow if the Sooners drop that contest.
Juarez (24-0) was untouchable for the second straight game. She whipped through the Wisconsin lineup and faced only two batters above the minimum, via a hit by pitch and a walk. She ended with 16 strikeouts, one off her career best.
The lefty joined Mariah Lopez and Shannon Saile for a perfect game in a 12-0 win over UMBC on Friday night by throwing three hitless frames. Over her past 27 innings, she’s only allowed two hits.
“(Her dominance) is pretty dang good,” Gasso said. “It’s fun to watch. It reminds me of some of our past pitchers. G is nails out there. She’s nails. When our team isn’t feeling it, we feel it off her.”
Juarez said it was important to trust her pitches. Even in the sixth inning, when it was still a two-run game, she kept her poise after the Badgers had a rare baserunner.
“I was thinking about doing my job and letting my defense play,” Juarez said. “Just letting what happens, happen, and just being competitive.”
Gasso didn’t announce who she was going to throw against the Badgers on Friday night.
“This is a big hitting team that likes the ball up in the zone,” Gasso said of the Big Ten school. “They hit over 60 home runs. We felt like we needed to mix speeds, and that’s what Giselle’s been doing really well lately.”
The Sooners took a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to some aggressive base running. With Romero on third, Clifton attempted a delayed steal of second. Wisconsin catcher Taylor Johnson’s throw went into center field to bring home Romero.
The lead stayed at one run until Grace Green hit an RBI single to right field to score Clifton. It was a quality at-bat against Wisconsin’s Haley Hestekin (17-5) that ended with a two-out hit on a 3-2 pitch.
“When things aren’t going the way we want, we get a runner in scoring position, we don’t care how it looks, just fight. And she did,” Gasso said. “I felt like our fight today was not, she was a good example of that, but our fight was not where it needed to be.
“We can take some of the good stuff, that was one, and we needed that run. We’re playing with fire when we’re playing Wisconsin because one swing of the bat, they’ve got the Big Ten player of the year (Kayla Konwent) in the leadoff spot who’s hit (15) home runs. We’ll scrap and fight for everything we can get when things aren’t clicking.”
Clifton hammered her 16th home run in the seventh inning into the left-field bleachers to make it 4-0 in the seventh inning.
“She’s so strong right now. I think of her as a freshman. She was just a skinny little thing with deer-in-the-headlight looks,” Gasso said. “Now she’s, to me, the best second baseman all around in the country. To see her finish her career like this is really rewarding for her, but also legendary for me and this program.”
Saturday’s game was played just hours after heavy rains swamped the Norman area. Gasso praised the OU grounds crew who worked hard to make the field playable.
The Oklahoma coach also had a message on what needed to change with her squad on Sunday.
“I’d like to see a completely different team, who is coming in confident, coming in with ownership, coming in as women. I felt like we looked a little like girls today. And they don’t like when I say that. But they know it,” Gasso said. “They’ll admit it. I think Syd said it perfectly. They hold themselves to a very high standard and I’m telling you, I walked in (the locker room) and it was silent.
“In a way, that’s a good sign because they know that they’re better than that. I believe that they’re going to come out and fix that tomorrow.”
OKLAHOMA 4, WISCONSIN 0
Oklahoma 100 010 2 — 4 8 0
Wisconsin 000 000 0 — 0 0 2
Juarez and Elam; Hestekin, Menz (5) and Johnson. HR: Clifton (16). W: Juarez (24-0). L: Hestekin (17-5).