NORMAN — Lopsided victories and double-digit hit totals are hard to come by during postseason play.
Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso passed that message to her top-ranked team following its 3-0 win Friday over Northwestern in Game 1 of an NCAA Super Regional at Marita Hynes Field.
“Everybody, if they are here and still alive, they have really good pitching,” Gasso said. “It’s not saying ‘Wow, we didn’t get nine hits.’ It’s just finding a way to manufacture runs.”
The Sooners (53-3) only managed three hits against the Wildcats, but the result was a big step toward a return trip to the Women’s College World Series. The teams will meet at 3 p.m. Saturday with OU needing just one win to close out the best-of-3 series.
OU ace Giselle Juarez pitched seven shutout innings and only allowed two hits. She struck out 11.
“I don’t think I had my greatest stuff, but I don’t think it was bad, either,” said Juarez (26-1), who has only allowed seven hits and one run in 23 postseason innings. “I think it just came down to trusting my defense and knowing that they were going to put runs on the board.”
OU tied a season low with three hits, but each hit fed the three runs scored.
“We’re happy to get wins. We’re not looking at numbers. It doesn’t matter,” Gasso said. “I told these guys we could strike out 14 times and have two hits and still find ways to win a game. Take advantage of base on balls. Take advantage of those types of things. Execute.
“Right now, it’s not the numbers. It’s about getting the W.”
The Sooners took control with a quality first-inning at-bat by Jocelyn Alo. The sophomore fought off three 3-2 pitches before slamming a double off the left-field wall to score Sydney Romero.
“Phenomenal,” Gasso said about the plate appearance. “I feel her fight. I feel her a little more disciplined. We need her. She’s enjoying this again.”
Alo added a diving catch in right field to secure the win.
“What I was most pleased with is she made that play at the end of the game,” Gasso said. “She’s been working really hard on her defense, as well. It was nice to see that pay off.”
Alo’s double was the only hit Northwestern starter Danielle Williams allowed through the first four innings. The freshman kept OU’s hitters off-balance by mixing speeds.
The complexion of the game changed in the fifth inning.
Romero hit a leadoff double and Caleigh Clifton followed with another to make it 2-0. All of OU’s hits were doubles.
“I felt like they were seeing a lot of pitches. They were going deep in some counts,” Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. “And they won the at-bat. We’ve got to be a little bit better being tougher in that moment and taking our time and understanding every pitch matters at this point.”
Gasso said the Sooners made improvements at the plate after last weekend’s four-team regional.
“I thought there was more aggressiveness and fight,” the OU coach said. “It’s turning 2-2 counts into full counts and into base on balls. Those are things very important.”
Clifton scored when Shay Knighten’s hard-hit ball to third base resulted in a two-out error to make it 3-0.
Juarez was only threatened one more time.
Rachel Lewis opened the Northwestern sixth with a double off the wall and advanced to third after a wild pitch. Juarez retired the next three batters.
“(Juarez is) tough. That’s what makes her good is how she’s able to pitch in that moment,” Drohan said. “We need to do a better job of playing better softball in that moment, of putting the ball in play. They were giving us a ground ball to get a run there. So, we’ve got to play better softball in that moment.”
Gasso said notching that first victory in a Super Regional series is huge.
“They understand the importance of getting that first win,” Gasso said. “It puts you in a nice position. It allows you to expand your pitching staff. They understand the importance of feeling like you are in the driver’s seat. They understand that first game is probably one of your biggest.”
Oklahoma 3, NORTHWESTERN 0
Northwestern 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Oklahoma 100 020 x — 3 3 0
Williams, Wilkey (6) and Rudd; Juarez and Elam. W: Juarez (26-1). L: Williams (31-7).