Starting Thursday, the nation’s 64 best softball teams will begin the chase for the NCAA championship, and a familiar team is the favorite.
The Oklahoma Sooners (49-2), winners of three softball championships this decade and two of the last three, are the top seed in the 2019 field and hosting the Norman Regional. They finished the regular season as the unanimous No. 1 team in the country and are riding a single-season Division I-record 39-game winning streak into the tournament. The Sooners finished 18-0 in the Big 12 Conference, and their only two losses came in February to fellow regional hosts Florida State and UCLA. Joining Oklahoma in the Norman Regional are Wisconsin, Notre Dame and UMBC.
OU led the country in batting average at .365 thanks to Jocelyn Alo, Caleigh Clifton, Grace Green and Big 12 Player of the Year Sydney Romero all hitting .400 or better. Oklahoma also has the lowest cumulative ERA of any program, at 1.15.
A big reason for that has been the play of Giselle Juarez, a junior left-handed pitcher who played her first two years at Arizona State before transferring to Oklahoma. She’s 22-0 on the season and has cemented her status as one of the best players in college softball.
But the pitching mound isn’t the only place things have been going right for Juarez. In February, Juarez expressed her faith in Christ by getting baptized alongside her teammate, senior outfielder Raegan Rogers.
Just made one of the best decisions of my life, post game, surrounded by friends, family, and teammates that I couldn’t be more blessed with. Grateful to share this moment with one of my teammates, now spiritual sister @Raegan_Rogers24 ❤️ Giving the glory to God!! ✝️ pic.twitter.com/AG934q8VBj
— 'G' Giselle Juarez (@ggotgame45) February 9, 2019
Juarez isn’t shy about her faith on Twitter, regularly tweeting out inspiring quotes from the Bible:
“We can rejoice,too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation”-Romans 5:3-4
Test of today become lessons, lean into them fully!
— 'G' Giselle Juarez (@ggotgame45) May 15, 2019
Whether it’s dominance on the diamond or bold proclamations of faith, the culture around the Oklahoma softball program embodies the character of its head coach, Patty Gasso.
Gasso quickly turned the Sooners from afterthoughts to juggernauts. She has compiled a winning percentage of .780 since her arrival in Norman 25 years ago. Gasso’s teams have appeared in the NCAA Tournament each year of her tenure, reaching the Women’s College World Series 12 times and winning it all on four occasions (2000, 2013, 2016, 2017).
Even more importantly, Gasso won victory in Christ when she became a believer in 1992. Now, she desires to see the players who come through her program place their trust in God as well.
“What I know is that (my players’) future in the Lord is important to me,” Gasso said in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes video.
Oklahoma team members hold voluntary Bible discussions, and prayer and chapel services in the same buildings that they watch film or assemble game plans.
“I’ve figured out what my purpose is here,” Gasso told FCA. “Many people, probably 99 percent, believe my purpose here is to win. But I’m winning in other ways; our team is winning in other ways behind the scenes.”
You can see the Sooners take the field in Norman for their first action of the 2019 tournament against UMBC, the America East Conference champions, on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET. The regional matchups are in the double-elimination format, with all the games being played through Sunday.
– Oklahoma Sooners softball player Eliyah Flores gets baptized at team facility
– Nicole Newman follows Christ, leads Drake softball into playoffs with fifth perfect game of 2019
– Two-time national-champion softball player Justine McLean gets baptized
– Finding my identity – Janie Reed