NCAA Super Regional Report:

For Razorbacks, it's do or die

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2018
Oklahoma's Nicole Mendes (11) slides into second as Arkansas' Haydi Bugarin (10) tries to place the tag in the second 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 (11) slides into second as Arkansas' Haydi Bugarin (10) tries to place the tag in the second inning 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. — The Arkansas Razorbacks must beat Oklahoma today to keep their season alive and force a third game to determine which team will win the super regional and advance to the College World Series.

“There’s no doubt in our minds we can go out there and beat them,” said University of Arkansas, Fayetteville sophomore pitcher Autumn Storms, who led the Sooners to one earned run in three innings on Friday after coming into the game for Mary Haff. “Don’t count us out.

“We’re going to keep fighting until the very end. We’re not ready to go yet.”

Oklahoma has won back-to-back national championships and is playing in its 12th super regional and ninth in a row since the format was introduced in 2005. Arkansas is playing in its first super regional.

“We have nothing to lose when it comes to this,” Razorbacks freshman right fielder Hannah McEwen said of the approach for today’s game. “We’ve gone somewhere Arkansas has never gone before.

“They’re ranked higher than us. They’re defending national champions for two years now. No matter what we do, we’ve had a great season, so our attitude is just go out there and play and relax. Just produce any way we can.”

Turn the Paige

Oklahoma Coach Patty Gasso started a senior left-handed pitcher named Paige against Arkansas on Friday in the teams’ super regional opener.

Just not the Paige most people would have expected.

Paige Lowary made just her fifth start of the season for the Sooners instead of Gasso going with Paige Parker (28-2) who has made 31 starts.

The strategy worked out well for the Sooners. Lowary held the Razorbacks to 3 hits and 1 run with 6 strikeouts and no walks as Oklahoma won 7-2 at Marita Hynes Field.

“We were a little surprised,” Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said of Lowary starting. “But she had a start last weekend in their regional.”

Lowary started and pitched six innings in the Sooners 8-0 victory over Tulsa last Saturday and held the Golden Hurricane to one hit.

“We knew we’d see one of the Paiges,” Deifel said. “It didn’t change our approach.”

Lowary (10-1) came into Friday’s game with a 0.97 ERA in 87 innings this season.

Oklahoma sophomore right-hander Maria Lopez (14-0) had a 1.49 ERA in 87 2/3 innings this season before replacing Lowary in the seventh against the Razorbacks and allowing two hits and a run.

“Oklahoma’s whole staff is tough,” Deifel said. “No matter who they throw it’s tough and we need to be up for the challenge.”

Gasso said it’s nice having the luxury of three dominant pitchers and being able to mix them up and keep an opponent guessing about who might be the starter.

“The beauty in postseason is we have a lot to work with,” Gasso said. “We’re not afraid of [changing the rotation], they’re not afraid of it.

“They understand this is a really tight-knit, supportive pitching staff. That’s the key — team, team, team. We don’t get caught up in ‘Why?’ They just believe the coaching staff knows what we’re doing.”

Gasso smiled when asked if Parker will start against Arkansas today.

“I’m saying nothing,” she said.

Freshman matchup

Two of the three finalists for the national freshman of the year award faced each other on Friday with each winning an at-bat.

Arkansas starting pitcher Mary Haff got Oklahoma outfielder Jocelyn Alo to pop out in the first inning. Alo responded with a home run leading off the third inning.

Haff and Alo, along with Michigan pitcher Meghan Beaubien, were announced Wednesday as finalists to be chosen as the nation’s top freshman. The award will be announced Tuesday at the College World Series banquet in Oklahoma City.

Sweet home

Okahoma improved to 29-0 at home this season and extended its winning streak at Marita Hynes Field to 35 games.

North Dakota State is the last team to beat Oklahoma at home, 3-2 in nine innings, in a regional game last season.

Deifel knows OU

Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel is back this weekend where she began her coaching career.

After Deifel had an All-American playing career as a catcher at the University of California Berkeley and played professionally in Japan, she was a graduate assistant for Oklahoma Coach Patty Gasso in 2008 and 2009.

Deifel, who received a master’s degree in human relations, she said was considering going into social work, and that Gasso convinced her she could do that as a coach.

“I just wanted to work with people —make a difference with people in any form,” Deifel said. “Patty said, ‘Well, this is social work. You get to work with 18- to 22-year-olds at the most influential time in their lives and have a hand in growing them up,’ and she’s exactly right.

“This is an incredible job. It’s an incredible time in [the players’] lives, and the fact that I get such a heavy hand in how prepare them to take on the world, it’s just pretty cool.”

After leaving Oklahoma, Deifel became an assistant at Louisville and was the head coach at Maryland before coming to Arkansas in 2016.

One-sided series

Oklahoma improved to 24-2 all-time against Arkansas, including 14-1 at home. The Razorbacks beat the Sooners 3-2 at Fayetteville in 2008 and 11-9 at Norman in 2009.

Moneyball

Oklahoma’s Patty Gasso is the nation’s highest-paid college softball coach. Last fall she received a contract extension through 2024 and a raise for a total annual financial compensation of $925,000. She has a salary of $725,000 combined with a bonus of $200,000 for staying at Oklahoma.

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