Mighty OU rolls after slow start, beats Arkansas 7-2

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2018
Oklahoma's Shay Knighten celebrates a home run in the third inning against Arkansas 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 Shay Knighten celebrates a home run in the third inning against Arkansas during the first game of an NCAA softball super regional in Norman, Okla., Friday, May 25, 2018. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)

NORMAN, Okla. -- Arkansas Razorbacks starting pitcher Mary Haff couldn't have gotten off to a better start against two-time defending national champion Oklahoma.

Haff retired the country's top hitting and scoring team in order on nine pitches in the first inning.

Then, the Sooners figured out Haff -- the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's star freshman -- and rolled to a 7-2 victory on Friday at Marita Hynes Field before an announced crowd of 1,938 to take the opener of the teams' NCAA Norman Regional.

Oklahoma (54-3) scored 4 runs off Haff in 2 innings after she had pitched 18 2/3 scoreless innings and had 3 victories for the Razorbacks (42-16) when they won their first regional title last weekend.

Joyelyn Alo and Shay Knighten hit back-to-back home runs leading off the third inning to put the Sooners ahead 4-0 and knock Haff (29-7) out of the game.

Alo, a freshman left fielder, hit a 3-2 pitch over the left-field fence -- on the eighth pitch of the at-bat -- for her 27th home run after popping out weakly to third baseman Autumn Buczek in the first inning.

"I think it's just about being mature as a hitter," Alo said of how the Sooners hit Haff after her impressive start. "Making really quick in-game adjustments."

Knighten's eighth home run this season came on a 2-0 pitch from Haff and also went over the left-field fence.

"Haff's done a very good job throughout the season, but it's tough for a freshman to come into this environment and handle it," Oklahoma Coach Patty Gasso said. "I thought she threw well, then she started to get a little bit wild, which is probably uncharacteristic for her.

"But it's not unheard of for opponents to come in here and do that, or for us to go somewhere that has a big crowd and do that.

"I expect that we're going to see Haff again [today]. She's a big part of why they're here right now."

Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said she expects Haff to pitch well today, when the Razorbacks play the Sooners at noon and must win to force a winner-take-all third game on Sunday.

"I think she'll bounce back fine," Deifel said.

Autumn Storms relieved Haff and got Nichole Pendley on a flyout and struck out Caleigh Ciifton, but the Sooners added another run on a triple by Nicole Mendes and single by Falepolima Aviu to make it 5-0.

Arkansas became the first team to score against Oklahoma in four NCAA Tournament games when the Razorbacks got a run in the fifth. Kayla Green singled, went to second when Kaydi Bugarin was hit by a pitch and to third on a flyout by McEwen and came home on groundout by Buczek.

The Sooners extended their lead to 7-1 two runs in the fifth with the help of two Arkansas errors -- one by Bugarin when she couldn't hold onto a ball at second and one a low throw to first base by Storms.

Oklahoma scored two runs in the second inning when the Sooners strung together three hits and a walk to take a 2-0 lead. Pendley scored on Aviu's groundout and Mendes scored on a wild pitch

"Oklahoma was just better than us today," Deifel said. "I thought it was a combination of them manufacturing some runs and taking advantage of some of our mistakes.

"You just can't do that at this time of the year. Credit to them for capitalizing on that, but we'll be ready to roll [today]."

Arkansas committed three errors.

"Any time we get a second chance I feel like we understand that we were fortunate to get that," Gasso said. "So let's make the most of it."

Deifel said earlier this week a key for Arkansas would be playing loose because the pressure was on two-time defending national champion Oklahoma to win, but that's not how the Razorbacks reacted on Friday.

"I just felt we played like the pressure was on us," Deifel said.

"We were doing things that we don't characteristically do. Just dropping balls. I feel like we were playing a little tight."

Oklahoma starting pitcher Paige Lowary (10-1) went six innings and had six strikeouts without a walk.

"I thought Paige Lowary was exceptional," Gasso said.

Arkansas made it 7-2 run in the seventh inning off Okahoma reliever Mariah Lopez when McEwen doubled and scored on Bugarin's single.

"To be down that many runs and to still be able to press against them and not let up says a lot about who we are as a team and how we play," McEwen said. "It's definitely going to carry over [today], because our lineup one through nine and can produce no matter what time it is in the game or who's up to bat."

Sports on 05/26/2018

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