It took four innings of hard-fought Red River Rivalry softball to build the series opener into a pitchers duel. Yet all it took was seven pitches to lose it.
The first three Oklahoma hitters in the fifth jumped all over a couple Texas miscues in the field, and that’s all the Sooners needed, as they took down the Longhorns 3-1 in Thursday’s game at Red & Charline McCombs Field.
Pitcher Miranda Elish was locked into a battle heading into the fifth frame. But she allowed a leadoff single that glanced off second baseman Janae Jefferson’s glove. Then trouble arose when third baseman Shannon Rhodes airmailed the throw to first on a bunt, putting runners at second and third base with no outs.
Oklahoma third baseman Sydney Romero laced a hard-hit grounder that slipped under the glove of first baseman Lauren Burke, and Oklahoma plated the go-ahead runs, taking a 2-0 lead.
“You’ve just got to understand that a team like that … every single out you give them is extra, they feed off of it,” Texas head coach Mike White said. “And that’s what good teams do.”
The Sooners added onto the lead with a two-out double in the seventh, and the lead was too much for a late Texas rally. The Longhorns were just unable to overcome an Oklahoma team that jumped on the few mistakes that Texas made.
Sooner pitcher Giselle Juarez made sure of that.
Juarez dazzled in her first career start against Texas, as she shut down the Longhorn lineup for all but the last inning in a complete game. She hit her spots early incounts and racked up 10 strikeouts, many on a devastating off-speed pitch.
“Just not being able to see it from a lefty, we haven’t seen a lefty with a good off-speed before,” catcher Mary Iakopo said. “(It was) just a different side of the plate.”
The work at the plate will not get any easier in the final two games of this series. Juarez is a part of an Oklahoma rotation that has been devastating to hitters across the country this season. Pitchers Mariah Lopez and Shannon Saile have each posted ERAs of 1.03, tied for sixth in the country.
But a late rally from the Longhorns gave hope for what could be ahead. Iakopo, who finished 3-for-3, beat out an infield single to start the seventh inning. Rhodes then came up a few feet short of a homer to right field, then Tuesday DerMargosian, who pinch ran for Iakopo, came home on a wild pitch with one out.
The rally was halted short of tying things up, but the series of hits gave life to a Texas team searching for anything.
“(It showed) that we have fight in us, and that we will be in the game until the end,” Elish said. “We’re not going to give up.”
Pitchers Brooke Bolinger or Shea O’Leary will be in the circle Friday for the Longhorns depending on O’Leary’s return from ankle injury. Whatever develops, it will take a clean game from the women in the home dugout to earn a victory. Otherwise, the waiting Oklahoma team will pounce.