Oklahoma lineup smothers Arkansas pitcher in super regional opener

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Friday, May 25, 2018
Oklahoma's Nicole Mendes, left, celebrates next to Arkansas' Autumn Buczek (8) during the fifth inning during the first game of an NCAA softball super regional in Norman, Okla., Friday, May 25, 2018. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)
Oklahoma's Nicole Mendes, left, celebrates next to Arkansas' Autumn Buczek (8) during the fifth inning during the first game of an NCAA softball super regional in Norman, Okla., Friday, May 25, 2018. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)

— Oklahoma leadoff hitter Sydney Romero went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts Friday. Romero entered super regional play hitting .430 for the season.

Her tough day at the plate didn't much matter, though.

Six of her teammates recorded at least one hit and four drove in runs in a 7-2 win that pulled the Sooners to within one game of their seventh Women's College World Series appearance in the last eight seasons.

"It was a complete game," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "If you look down our lineup, just about everybody had some kind of contribution through the scoring. We executed our gameplan very well. It’s a good way to get started."

Arkansas freshman starter Mary Haff breezed through the first inning against the vaunted Oklahoma lineup that features two players hitting better than .400 and another hitting .372. She needed only nine pitches to retire Romero, Jocelyn Alo - OU's National Freshman of the Year finalist - and Shay Knighten.

But in the second, Oklahoma (54-3) scratched the first earned runs against Haff this postseason and led 2-0 after two innings. Then the top of the Sooners' order came back around in the third.

Alo, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, and Knighten launched home runs over the bleachers in left field, ballooning the Oklahoma lead to 4-0 and bringing Haff's day to an end. It was Alo's NCAA-leading 27th home run of the season and the 18th and 19th home runs allowed by Haff.

By the end of the third, the Sooners led 5-0, but it felt like more. Arkansas (42-16) didn't help itself in the field and committed three errors, two in the fifth that led to two runs.

"They have that ability because there’s just no (place to take a) breath in their lineup," Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said. "So when you create an out that you should make and they get a free base out of it, it creates momentum. Oklahoma is good at capitalizing on that."

With one out in the fifth, Arkansas second baseman Haydi Bugarin dropped a ball at second base that looked to be a tailor-made double play ball that would get Arkansas out of the inning unscathed.

After a passed ball and an RBI groundout, Oklahoma nine-hole hitter Lea Wodach laid down a two-out bunt first-base side and forced a rushed throw from pitcher Autumn Storms to first. Raegan Rogers scored from third to make it a 7-1 game.

Arkansas' mistakes were magnified by the strength and depth of Oklahoma's lineup, Deifel said.

"Anytime we get a second chance or you relieve us of an out … I feel like we understand we were fortunate to get that, so let’s make the most of it," said Gasso, who won her 1,200th game in 24 seasons at OU. "A lot of what we do is unexpected. That could cause a little but of nervousness or bobble the ball. This team knows how to use every out they can get."

Gasso commended Haff for her performance Friday. The Sooners' lineup just overwhelmed the right-hander in the third and led to one of her shortest starts of the season. Haff fell to 29-7 this season, but will likely get the ball again Saturday with Arkansas' season hanging in the balance.

The Razorbacks must win two straight games at Marita Hynes Field, where the Sooners haven't lost in more than a year.

"It’s tough for a freshman to come into this environment and handle it. I thought she threw well," Gasso said. "I thought she started to get a little bit wild, but it’s not unheard of for opponents to come in here and do that, or for us to go somewhere with big crowds and do that. She’s a big part of why they’re here right now."

The first pitch Saturday is scheduled for noon. Gasso would not say whether she would start three-time All-American Paige Parker, who is one of four finalists for 2018 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Parker is 28-2 this season with a 0.89 ERA.

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