OKLAHOMA CITY – Before Saturday's evening game against Florida, a rematch of last year's Women's College World Series final, Oklahoma tweeted a video of former Sooner stars repeating, "I believe."
It ended with a quote by pitcher Paige Parker from Thursday's press conference after a first-round loss to Washington.
"I know how much fight our team has and how much heart that we have," Parker said. "I fully believe that this team can do anything."
The four-time All-American could have pouted. She was pulled early, and both Washington runs came when she was in the dugout.
Instead, Parker returned Saturday to throw back-to-back complete-game shutouts for the Sooners, guiding them to consecutive 2-0 victories against Arizona State and the Gators. The wins staved off elimination for another day and advanced OU (57-4) into the WCWS semifinals. It needs to beat Washington (51-8) twice, starting at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, to keep alive the dream of a third-straight national title.
No pressure, no diamonds.— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) June 3, 2018
Behind an exceptional performance from @paigeparker008 and a pair of @78jocelyn_alo homers, the #Sooners survived Elimination Saturday. Ready to get back after it today. #Believe #ChampionshipMindset pic.twitter.com/Y0K76IXgGB
But while the Sooners contemplate the road ahead, there is plenty of time to reflect on a pitching performance coach Patty Gasso called, "one for the ages." It was the first back-to-back complete-game shutouts by a pitcher in the same day at the WCWS since Florida's Stacey Nelson in 2008, an era of softball dominated by one-man pitching staffs.
"It was not only just masterful, but it was a will to find a way to win," Gasso said. "That bled into our team, and they were going to find a way to win."
After throwing 106 pitches against the Huskies, Parker sliced through Arizona State with ease, allowing two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts as she retired 11 of last 14 batters.
Jocelyn Alo hit a homer in the third inning, and OU pushed across another on a Lea Wodach single in the sixth. After the game, the Sooners rushed out of the stadium to rest and prepare for the Gators, coming off a loss to UCLA Friday.
Before they departed, Parker made it clear she was ready if needed.
"If Paige Parker says, 'I'm good,' then she'll be on the mound," Gasso followed up.
In warmups, Parker "whispered" to her veteran coach to put her in the circle.
There was no second guessing.
"When Paige Parker says, 'I would like to have the ball,' you listen to Paige Parker, and you give her the ball," Gasso said.
Parker's 10th win at the WCWS, more than former Arizona star Jenny Finch or UCLA legend Lisa Fernandez, was even better than her ninth.
She silenced a Florida offense that hit six home runs and scored 16 runs in its first two WCWS games. The Gators praised Parker's ability to "pound the zone," getting ahead in counts and throwing all four of her pitches, curve, drop, rise ball and changeup, for a strike.
"And that changeup is pretty dirty," Nicole DeWitt, who went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, said.
It got even dirtier as Parker's velocity on her other pitches increased. She touched 66 miles per hour as she blew through 11 Gators in a row from the third to seventh inning. With her pitch count at 182 for the day, she left the circle, mobbed by her teammates before crossing the third-base line.
Parker's dominance meant OU's offense wasn't required to do much. It left 13 runners on base over the two games, collecting just three hits against Florida, which threw national player of the year finalist Kelly Barnhill.
Alo tagged a home run, through a stiff wind, well over the left-field fence, and after she was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs in the fifth, Shay Knighten reached on a strikeout/wild pitch, which allowed Caleigh Clifton to score.
"I think it's a smart move [to intentionally walk Alo]," Gasso said. "Shay comes through more than not, so it's still a risk. But that's the kind of respect Jocelyn is getting right now."
With her and Parker leading the way, it's easy to understand this group's confidence.
"We told you guys. We truly believe we can do this, and I don't think any of us spoke like they didn't really believe it," catcher Lea Wodach said. "A lot of teams maybe count themselves out, but we never did."
This article is written by John McKelvey from The Norman Transcript, Okla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.