NORMAN — A pressure-filled moment did its best to shake Giselle Juarez.
A Wisconsin batter, Ally Miklesh, drew a one-out walk during the bottom of the sixth inning on Saturday.
Oklahoma still led 2-0 with Miklesh on first, but Big Ten Player of the Year Kayla Konwent and All-Big Ten first-team selection Taylor Johnson were next to bat for the Badgers.
“I wasn't really trying to think about that,” Juarez said. “I was thinking about doing my job and letting my defense play. Just letting it happen. Just letting what happens, happen and just being competitive.”
Juarez’s mindset worked.
OU's Saturday starter struck out Konwent and Johnson to retire the side. And she propelled top-seeded OU to a 4-0 win over Wisconsin in an NCAA Norman Regional winner's bracket game a day after starting vs. UMCB.
OU coach Patty Gasso thought the junior was OU's best option against a Wisconsin offense that ranks top-25 nationally in scoring and on-base percentage.
It’s a testament to Gasso’s trust in Juarez. But to give up zero hits through two NCAA regional games is unheard of, the OU coach says.
“I think we're getting spoiled,” Gasso said. “ ... I think we just almost expect it, which isn't fair. But she lives in that world as well. We're seeing greatness right now on the mound.”
Juarez faced 23 Wisconsin batters and struck out 16 of them. It’s the most strikeouts an OU pitcher has thrown since Paige Parker’s 15 vs. Kansas on April 13, 2017.
It’s a remarkable postseason performance for any player, let alone for one that wasn’t taking classes at OU until January.
Moreso, it's a reflection of the pitcher's unprecedented debut season for a first-year player in Gasso's program.
“I don't look at her as a freshman but for her to come and walk away from a program and come into ours and try to be prepared in three weeks,” Gasso said, “I've never seen anything like that.”
The Arizona State transfer’s confidence in high-stakes situations is infectious, even for a team veteran like senior Sydney Romero.
“It makes it easy for us,” Romero said. “It's really fun to play behind her, especially a confident pitcher. She just brings momentum to the defense and it's just fun to play behind.”
That momentum was especially crucial in Saturday’s game.
The Sooners' lineup recorded eight hits against the Badgers but left six on in the win.
OU gave it up to Wisconsin’s pitchers, Haley Hestekin and Kaitlyn Menz, who challenged the offense that boasts the nation's best batting average.
“They pitched really well against us and we weren't making our adjustments,” Romero said. “Their pitchers did a good job of keeping us off-balanced and they were just competing. I think we gave in a little bit too much to their pitches.”
OU still managed to find timely scoring opportunities.
Romero, who hit a leadoff single, notched OU’s first run on a Badger throwing error during the top of the first frame.
Wisconsin catcher Taylor Johnson tried to throw Caleigh Clifton out at second, but her toss to her shortstop rolled to the left of her teammate. The error allowed Clifton to steal the base and Romero to score.
Grace Green added OU’s second run a few frames later with a two-out single that plated Clifton in the top of the fifth.
The low-scoring contest through six innings finally saw its first home run in the seventh inning.
Clifton said the team felt like it pressed too much throughout the game. But she mitigated the slow offensive day by hammering a two-out, two-run shot off Menz.
OU’s next test will come at 1 p.m. Sunday when the Sooners compete for a Super Regionals berth at Marita Hynes Field.