'I got you': How OU softball stormed past Northwestern with grand slams in WCWS opener

Ryan Aber
Oklahoman
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Patty Gasso got the conversation started.

Jocelyn Alo finished it.

Alo’s fiery speech kickstarted an OU offense that appeared to be going through the motions early, and ignited an offensive outburst unlike any the Sooners have ever had in the Women’s College World Series.

OU turned in back-to-back monster innings, flexing their offensive muscle in a 13-2, five-inning run-rule win over Northwestern at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

The Sooners (55-2) will take on Texas — one of two teams to beat OU this season — at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Northwestern (45-12) will play UCLA at 6 p.m. Friday in an elimination game.

Wildcats starter Danielle Williams made a good percentage of the Sooners’ lineup look silly in the first two innings, bringing back visions of James Madison’s Odicci Alexander’s breakout performance in last year’s WCWS first-round upset of the Sooners.

Williams’ changeup baffled OU early, making some of college softball’s best hitters look silly they were so in front of the ball.

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OU's Tiare Jennings (23) celebrates as she hits a grand slam in the third inning of a 13-2 win Thursday against Northwestern on the first day of the Women's College World Series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

Gasso, OU’s legendary coach, had prepared her team for Williams’ stuff going in.

But after the second inning, Gasso’s tone took a turn.

“It went from talking to stern conversation,” Gasso said.

That’s when Alo stepped in, and Gasso backed away.

“We have a pretty straight-laced program, but when Jocy jumps in, she’ll say it the way she means it,” Gasso said. “I just step out so she can be herself.

“The response was through the roof.”

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Things had gotten shaky for the Sooners in the third after Rachel Lewis’ solo homer off Hope Trautwein had OU trailing for the first time in the postseason.

But Trautwein got out of the inning and then OU’s hitters did what they’ve done all season — give opposing pitchers nightmares.

The difference from the first two innings was evident immediately when Rylie Boone started the third with a laser-shot double over Northwestern right fielder Lewis’ head.

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OU's Jana Johns (20) celebrates after hitting a grand slam in the fourth inning of a 13-2 win against Northwestern on Thursday.

Standing at second, Boone slapped both hands on the dirt.

“I got you,” Boone yelled toward the Sooners’ dugout.

Boone was the first of six consecutive hitters to reach base.

Jana Johns followed with a single to left to tie the game, before a Jayda Coleman single and Alo’s walk loaded the bases.

Then Tiare Jennings blasted Williams’ first pitch — a changeup — over the centerfield wall, sending the throng of Sooners fans into a frenzy.

“I kind of just stuck to my timing like I did,” Jennings said. “I kind of had a feeling that it was going to come first pitch, so I saw the ball up in the zone and just went from there.”

Gasso had preached the importance of timing going into the game, but seeing it in person is a big difference from facing it live.

But before Coleman, OU’s leadoff hitter, came to the plate for the second time, OU made the adjustment.

“Just focusing on hitting the ball, letting it get deep and just hitting it to right field because we were early all game,” Johns said, “and I think letting the atmosphere get to you kind of. You just have to breathe and stick to the process.”

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Boone delivered a second hit in the inning, this one a single up the middle, to put the Sooners up 6-1 after three.

The onslaught continued in the fourth, as the first four hitters reached base and then Johns delivered OU’s second grand slam of the day to put OU up 13-1.

It was the most runs scored by the Sooners in their 61 WCWS games.

They’d previously scored 10 twice — last season in a 10-3 win over UCLA and 10-2 over Texas in 2013. Both years, OU ultimately won the national championship.

Jennings’ grand slam was also the first in program history during the WCWS, and OU became just the second team in WCWS history to hit two grand slams in a game, joining Georgia in 2009.

The run-rule victory was the Sooners' program-record 39th of the season and their fourth of the postseason.

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