NORMAN — The weight of setting an NCAA softball winning streak record exited Oklahoma’s dugout Sunday afternoon. The quest for a third national title in four years remained.
The Sooners had to dig out a 2-0 victory over Wisconsin in the “if game” to claim a berth in the NCAA Softball Tournament’s Super Regional round at Marita Hynes Field.
“It was important for us to have our backs against the wall, not that we planned it that way. But I think it worked out well for us” OU coach Patty Gasso said after the Sooners stretched their record to 53-3. “We’ve just been kinda flat. When you have your back against the wall, it’s a character-builder. You’re either gonna play afraid to lose or play to win. They started playing to win.”
The Sooners, who hadn’t lost since falling 7-1 to UCLA on Feb. 22, needed to show that character after the Badgers pulled off one of the biggest stunners of the tournament earlier in the day.
Wisconsin’s 2-1 win in Sunday’s opener ended OU’s single-season record 41-game winning streak, as well as a 49-game home winning streak.
Wisconsin right-hander Kaitlyn Menz (21-9) threw every inning for the Badgers (43-14) Sunday. She gave up just nine hits in 14 innings.
The Sooners’ mixture of pitching, defense and power at the plate was too hard to keep corralled. They shook off the loss in the opener and rode their ace to another regional title.
Giselle Juarez improved to 25-1 with the victory. She tossed a complete game four-hitter.
“Going into the second game, it was just a matter of trusting myself and trusting my defense,” Juarez said.
You could understand if she was slightly rattled. She gave up the loss in relief in the opener. Perfectly executed squeeze bunts were the Sooners’ kryptonite.
As the day wore on, the Sooners didn’t give up those opportunities. In the finale, the Badgers only put one base-runner in scoring position and didn’t put one on third with less than two outs.
The Sooners never quite solved the riddle Menz presented. But they capitalized on the two good swings they had.
Raegan Rodgers, who pinch-ran for catcher Lynnsie Elam after Elam led off the top of the third inning with a double off the right-center field wall, scored on a sacrifice fly from Sydney Romero.
Grace Green provided the insurance in the fourth inning with a solo home run — her 15th of the season. Green epitomized the danger in OU’s lineup. But they were tight and Menz had them off balance. All it takes is one good swing for that to change.
“I just tried to have fun and take my hacks,” she said.
OU’s day started in that fashion. Romero, the Sooners’ leadoff hitter, belted the first pitch she saw off the scoreboard.
But it wound up turning into a 14-inning day in which OU obtained its goal, but dropped off some baggage in the process.
“We’re humble enough to know there are things we still need to learn about this game,” Gasso said. “We’re also happy we don’t have to talk about this winning streak anymore. Now we can just go about playing.”
The No. 1 seed Sooners will host No. 16 seed Northwestern in the best-of-three Super Regional series Friday-Sunday.
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