For the first time in Oklahoma history, the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team (OK – #2 in the nation) has won the national championship. Led by Giselle Juarez, the Sooners out-executed the South Carolina Gamecocks for a 77-68 win on Sunday night at the AT&T – CWS.
The Oklahoma Sooners didn’t do anything spectacular in the 2015 NCAA basketball tournament, but they still managed to win it all. The No. 4 seed in the South Region, the Sooners knocked off fifth-seeded Louisville to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, where they defeated fourth-seeded Michigan State in the regional final, 55-53.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Be prepared, William Juarez wrote to his daughter Wednesday night.
Giselle Juarez’ softball career at Oklahoma has been a deep reservoir of ups and downs. She didn’t even pitch in the Super Regional, but she struck out four batters Wednesday night to help the Suners survive in the Women’s College World Series, and in 5 p.m. she would take the ball back in the final game of her college career.
I’m excited, she replied to her father.
Juarez came close to a championship twice in high school, but finished second. Two years ago it got worse: she was on the field during the WCWS championship game when UCLA won. The waiting exhausted her. She now has a tattoo on her wrist: Just be yourself.
The Sooners called on Juarez again in the decisive Game 3 of the championship on Thursday, and it played two caps in a 5-1 victory over Florida State to secure the 2021 national title. Juarez retired the first and second batters of the seventh inning and also caught a pop-up from Devin Flaherty for the final out. Juarez hugged her catcher, Kinzie Hansen, and then her teammates circled around her to celebrate the fifth national championship in school history.
Just over a year ago, Juarez had a conversation with her family about whether she would continue to play sports. She tore her left biceps and had a long and painful recovery ahead of her. (The left-hander pitched with an injury before COVID-19 ended the season). His return to 2021 wasn’t always good, and when it was all over Thursday, even coach Patty Gasso admitted Juarez hadn’t had his best season.
But when Oklahoma lost to an underdog on the opening day of the WCWS and needed him, Juarez went 5-0, struck out 37 batters and posted an ERA of 0.90.
And on Thursday, she was named the WCWS’ best player.
Such a special moment, OU right midfielder Nicole Mendez said of Juarez’ performance.
When I see her come back after those two hard trials and see her be where she is now, I can only smile because it’s such a G-act to come out and say: Okay, you know what? I’m going to take control of this game, I’m going to come back from my injury and lead my team to the championship.
Giselle Juarez and the Oklahoma Sooners survived a six-game elimination contest, losing to James Madison in the WCWS opener. Sarah Stier/Getty Images
The 56-4 Suners have become one of the most dominant teams in the history of college softball. They started the season 33-0 and broke records for home runs (161) and runs scored (638) in one season. They hit 15 home runs at the WCWS, breaking the all-time record. They also became the first team to win six consecutive away games en route to the championship.
Tenth-seeded Florida State won the first game of the championship series and led in the sixth inning of the second game against Oklahoma, but was ultimately defeated on a sweltering Thursday afternoon with a heat index of 104 degrees. The Seminoles used three pitchers to shut down OU’s offense, but by the time their most-used asset, Katherine Sandercock, stepped to the mound in the third inning, it was too late: The Suners, swinging and spraying mud, won by four.
Jocelyn Alo, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, hit a home run to left field in the first inning, her 34th of the season, to give the Suners a 1-0 lead. In the next inning, Jaida Coleman hit a ball over the fence, just ahead of left fielder Kaylee Mudge.
Juarez sighed in frustration after retiring freshman Kaley Harding early in the third game. Harding scored when Sydney Sherrill missed a pop fly that second baseman Tiare Jennings lost in the sun. But Oklahoma answered with three hits in the bottom of the third inning, helped by a double by Coleman that ricocheted off the wall in left field. FSU coach Lonnie Alameda brought in junior Emma Wilson after freshman Danielle Watson hit an early single. Wilson, who had pitched just 20 innings prior to Thursday, gave up two walks, a hit and two runs in two-thirds of an inning.
The inning knocked us down, Alameda said. It may not have been fair of her to take me there, but I know she wanted to. I know it’s good for the future of this program if she takes the memories with her, and it’s in no way her fault for what happened.
With Oklahoma leading 5-1 and Juarez in the lead, the final four innings became a love fest for the 10,830 fans at USA Hall of Fame Softball Stadium. Forty-five minutes into the game, Juarez was still in shock. When she sat down for the post-game press conference, she said wow.
The bond between the players was obvious. When Alo was asked what the Suners would do without their seniors, including Juarez, she began to sob. Juarez came over to comfort her and told Alo that she was crying too.
Gasso, who knew long before the first pitch that this team would be special, was especially happy for Juarez.
This week was a little different, and everyone felt safe, Gasso said. She had a different look, a different approach – calm, confident, wanting the ball.
My heart overflowed with joy for her, as this was a difficult time for her. It was his big senior year. She had a lot to prove.
Gasso didn’t have much time to celebrate. Their son, D.J., an assistant coach at Utah, is getting married Friday. The rehearsal dinner was scheduled for Thursday night.
I’ll pay for it, but I’m not here, she joked.
She took time to reflect on the WCWS, which broke visitor records and undoubtedly increased the popularity of her sport. It was a week of rain delays, games at 2 a.m., controversial decisions by the umpires and James Madison pitcher Odichi Alexander becoming a viral superstar. Wednesday night’s game on ESPN peaked at 2.6 million viewers.
This tournament is a big deal, Gasso said. It’s going to be very, very big. It attracts a crowd of spectators. There is a lot of discussion about this. As coaches, we just want to do what’s best for the sport in a respectful way, and we hope that people will listen to us, whether it’s changing our schedule, giving us an extra day, [or] not having night games. Instant replay is absolutely essential.
I think this College World Series has really brought attention to a lot of things that need to change to make our game better for our student-athletes, and in a good way.