NORMAN (TNS) — Patty Gasso didn’t say much to Paige Parker before her start against Tulsa on Monday afternoon.
The Oklahoma softball head coach knew pregame words would only rattle her ace. Only Parker could get herself back in the groove after an uncharacteristic performance the night before.
So Gasso kept her distance and let Parker do what she needed to do.
Gasso’s strategy worked, and Parker rebounded with a monster complete-game shutout in Oklahoma’s 3-0 win against Tulsa, sending to the Sooners to the Auburn Super Regional for a Friday meeting (3 p.m., ESPN2) with the Tigers at Jane B. Moore Stadium.
“Less is more with Paige, just let her do her thing,” Gasso said. “When it was all over is when we started to talk a little bit. But she just likes to try to stay loose and the more words and trying to motivate her, she doesn’t need that. She just wants to get in her own groove and she did that pretty quickly.”
On Friday night against Tulsa (41-17), Parker was pulled after a shaky 1 2/3 innings. She gave up two hits and two runs, walking three batters. It was a far cry from her 1.57 ERA entering the Norman Regional. When she left the field, Parker looked visibly upset. It was hardly the start she needed to help her team force another game against Tulsa on Monday, one that would send the winner to the Auburn Super Regional.
Parker’s fellow pitchers picked her up Friday night as Paige Lowary threw 8 1/3 innings in the Sooners’ 6-4 extra innings win.
By the time Monday morning rolled around, Parker had shaken off the previous night’s rough outing. Gasso didn’t think twice about starting her ace against the team that had just given her fits less than 24 hours earlier. To advance to the super regional, Gasso knew she had to have Parker in the circle.
“This was a no-brainer for us because Paige Parker is the face of our program,” Gasso said. “She led us to a national championship last year. She had a tough outing yesterday, but this is what Paige Parker is made of. To give her the ball was a no-brainer and she proved it.”
Parker delivered from the beginning, striking out two Tulsa players in each of the first four innings.
While Parker continued her stellar afternoon in the circle, the Sooners (54-9) provided run support needed to squash the Golden Hurricane. Freshman Nicole Mendes gave Parker extra momentum going into the bottom of the first frame as she drilled a leadoff first-pitch home run over the left field wall. Then in the fifth inning, Macey Hatfield, the lone senior on the team, crushed a home run of her own to left field, and sophomore Sydney Romero tacked on an RBI in the sixth.
With the 3-0 lead entering the last six outs of the game, Parker took over and completed Oklahoma’s comeback from a regional-opening loss to North Dakota State to a super regional berth.
“It’s always so good when you have a pitcher on the mound and you see them succeed,” Mendes said. “To have Paige come out today and get the start and pitch the way that she did, was just something that just put a smile on my face because she works so hard, and she really deserved it.”
— The Oklahoman