The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners traveled to Palm Springs, California to compete in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, and the five games in three days resulted in a 4-1 showing over the weekend, bumping OU’s season record up to 13-2.
The first game of the classic came against BYU. Junior pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez got the start in the circle and was in complete control during her 6.0 innings of work, striking out 14 of the 21 batters she faced and only allowed two hits on the day. At the plate, seniors Sydney Romero, Shay Knighten and freshman Grace Green all turned in multi-hit outings, taking care of the Cougars in a 5-0 shutout.
The second half of Friday’s doubleheader came against the No. 2 UCLA Bruins. The Sooners jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with Fale Aviu’s solo home run in the top of the second inning, but it was all UCLA the rest of the way. The 7-1 loss goes on ace pitcher Mariah Lopez’s record (6-1), but it was a healthy combination of missed opportunities at the plate and mismanagement on defense that led to the lopsided result.
On Saturday, Oklahoma took the field for the third game of its weekend run, and after a bout against one of the nation’s top teams on Friday, things didn’t get much easier as the No. 14/13 Arizona Wildcats were next up on the docket. The biggest difference from the Sooners’ showing against the Bruins and this game was how Patty Gasso’s team dialed in on defense and held the potent ‘Zona bats in check. Two runs was all OU could muster, but some outstanding pitching from Juarez and fielding from the team overall was just enough to get the job done.
Speaking of Juarez, this was a huge weekend for the former Arizona State pitcher. In total, she went 2-0 in her two starts and recorded 28 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. The pitching void that was left when Paige Parker and Paige Lowary graduated appears to be filling fast with Lopez and Juarez coming into their own.
On Sunday, the Sooners wrapped up the weekend with a pair of run-rule victories over Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara. Against CSUF, Lopez got her second start of the weekend, recording six K’s in 3.2 innings and giving up just a single run in the fourth. Juarez closed out the final 1.1 innings without allowing a single hit. On offense, senior Caleigh Clifton did work all game long, going 3-4 at the plate (including a two-run homer) and recording 5 total RBI. Knighten was also responsible for 2 RBI in her 2-3 showing in the batter’s box. In the end, Oklahoma buried the Titans 9-1.
The final contest of the Sooners’ weekend schedule came against UCSB, and for all intents and purposes this one was over as quickly as it began. After junior pitcher Shannon Saile recorded two strikeouts to open her lone start of the weekend, the Oklahoma bats were alive and swinging right out of the gate.
In the bottom of the first, the top of the order all reached base with no outs. Then Knighten made it count with a single to right, sending Clifton and Romero home. It was sophomore Jocelyn Alo’s turn next, and a sac fly allowed Aviu to touch home. Finally, junior Nicole Mendes crushed her first dinger of the season, pushing OU ahead 5-0 in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, the Sooners wrapped up this meeting with the Gauchos early to the tune of 8-0 in 6 innings.
On the season, Sydney Romero currently leads the team with five home runs and 13 RBI. The senior has improved markedly in each season she’s been in Norman, and if the first 15 games of the 2019 campaign is any indication, the Sooners should be able to count on her at the plate to create runs one way or another.
Up next, Oklahoma plays in front of its home crowd for the first time this season in the Courtyard Marriott Tournament. Including postseason play, the Sooners have won 34 consecutive games in Norman dating back to the 2017 season. Beginning with a double header on Friday, March 1st, OU will take the field against Oregon State and Louisiana-Lafayette, followed by back-to-back rematches against the Beavers and the Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
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